Have you seen the New Wells Fargo commercials? The one where the bank tries to prove that they are going to “earn back our trust”? Or the one that says “Re-established 2018” while featuring Mexican soccer fans chanting in front of the TV? Funny that, because at the same time as they are re-establishing themselves in the trust of the general public they are also aiding Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that is ripping families apart across the country. One would have thought that after committing fraud on the level that they did so very recently they would by keeping out of the public eye.
Apparently not. Wells Fargo is one of the banks in charge of ensuring that private prisons get the financing they need to function and expand. And by doing so they are helping the prison business grow, and effectively saying they are not only OK with the expansion of prisons, but that they also agree with detaining migrants indeterminably.
They are not alone.
ICE works like a business who outsources much of their needs. We all need to start calling out all of the organizations that support ICE: the Wells Fargos, the Microsofts, the HPs, the Salesforces, because they are ALL benefiting from the incarceration of migrants, children included, whether they are crossing the border, claiming asylum, or have lived in this country for years.
But let’s back this up a little, shall we? What exactly is ICE and why are we focusing on those who profit from this agency? What is this whole #AbolishICE talk about really?
I wouldn’t be surprised if up until recently most US citizens had no idea what or who ICE is. To be honest, I don’t think that many people still understand. ICE was created in 2003 and has since largely been expanded. The agency was specifically created after 9/11 to enforce immigration laws within the country, while Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) enforces them at and around the border. With ICE and CBP combined the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) now operates the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country. They are also becoming the largest jailers in the country, and continue to grow as immigration enforcement is ramped up under the Trump administration.
Wells Fargo, along with other consumer-facing banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America SunTrust, and BNP Paribas, finance private for-profit prison corporations such as Core Civic and GEO Group. These private prison groups are contracted by ICE to detain migrants, and in general rely heavily on credit to function properly on a day-today basis. If banks remove their financing the operational structure of these prisons will fall apart. (As a side-note Wells Fargo has also already invested in the construction of a border wall, and stands to benefit from militarization, guns, and fossil fuel development.)
Wells Fargo does not directly finance ICE in the way of giving ICE money. But Wells Fargo finances Core Civic and GEO Group’s debts, therefore helping them to basically run their businesses. By doing so they are therefore profiting from the existence of ICE, and complicit in all actions ICE performs.*
Private, or for-profit, prisons are owned by third parties that are then contracted out by government agencies, usually on a set per-diem rate per prisoner or per bed. This means that the end goal of a for-profit prison is to make money, by keeping all of the beds full, and as with any business, these companies are always looking to grow. They are making billions of dollars in revenue every year, and have very murky backgrounds and reputations, something which I will come back to later on in this article.
When it comes to immigration, private prison corporations stand to profit immensely from the zero tolerance immigration policy that was introduced by Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice (DOJ) back in May of this year. The current immigration laws 8 U.S.C § 1325 and 8 U.S.C § 1326 detail what unlawful border entry and unlawful border re-entry entail, and what type of punishment one risks when caught attempting to cross the border unlawfully. While these laws have been in place for quite a few years, prosecutions for illegal border crossings were not as frequent as they have been over the past few years (see “catch and release” practice). The zero tolerance policy has changed that by enforcing the detention and prosecution of any person attempting to cross the border without proper documentation, including those who claim asylum at a port of entry. Also, as it is illegal to incarcerate children for more than 20 days (see the Flores settlement), the current administration was able to find a loophole through which they could separate children from their parents.
Zero tolerance is basically just a way for the government to detain, prosecute, and deport any immigrants coming through the southern border without due process, even though the law of due process is written in the Constitution.
Wells Fargo, Core Civic, and GEO Group are obviously not the only ones profiting from the incarceration and prosecution of immigrants.*. ICE receives a substantial budget from the federal government, millions of dollars that are to be used towards securing and managing borders, as well as enforcing and administering immigration laws. This budget is used to contract all types of services out to many different agencies. And these agencies are therefore receiving money off the backs of the deportation machine that ICE is.
So, who else profits from detaining immigrants?
In a nutshell:
- for-profit prison corporations
- non-profit centers
- money corporations (banks and private investment firms such as Vanguard and Blackrock)
- service contractors
- local town or city governments
Non-profit centers receive millions through the government to run the shelters. For example, SouthWest Key Programs, a non-profit that runs children’s centers in states along the southern border, has received over $500 million in funds from ICE this year, more than half of what they received in 2016.
ICE contracts with corporations such as MVM, Inc., a defense contractor, for transportation services, and General Dynamics who are in charge of the case management of separated children (of which they don’t seem to be doing a very good job of).
Microsoft currently have a $19.4 million contract with ICE for cloud services through their Azure platform. Lionbridge, a translation and localization organization, have a $2.2 million contract for interpretation and translation services. Amikids receive money for educational services, and HP for data center services. The list is extremely long, and Sludge has created a brilliant public spreadsheet that lists every contractor, service and contract amount. The more you scroll the sicker you get as you realize just how many companies are invested in and profiting from the incarceration of families.
In terms of local government contracts, approximately 850 local authorities contract with the federal government to detain immigrants in county jails. A county jail may therefore detain prisoners and immigrants together, because what usually happens is that the local authority will rent out beds to ICE. While there are many of these agreements in place in Republican-heavy areas, they are also to be found in blue counties, as well as so-called “sanctuary cities”. For example, up until recently Sacramento and Contra Costa County both had contracts with ICE (but neither renewed their contracts most likely due to outside pressure). Sacramento’s County Sheriff Department lost over 6 million federal dollars when the Sacramento Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 not to renew the contract, and ICE had to move their detainees from the county correctional center to a federally-run prison. While immigrant activists rightfully see this as a win, Sacramento County’s notorious anti-immigration sheriff Scott Jones did not.
There are many incentives to contracting with ICE, such as the most obvious, federal funding and employment, but citizens, voters, need to start questioning whether they really want their local governments to be profiting from the mass incarceration and deportation machines this country has created.
Do YOU want your government to receive money in return for arresting and detaining people whose only crime is to be living in this country without papers? (Keeping in mind that MS-13 has never really been an issue in the US, despite what the president says).
If we dig a little deeper into the business of criminalizing immigration it all gets even murkier. Private prisons may also be overseen by local officials, but they are still run by the private corporations, and immigrants are being detained wherever there is space to put them. This could mean hundreds of miles away from their families and homes. At the same time DMV offices may also be working directly with ICE by providing them with a list of people who are undocumented. Local prosecutors or jails may be alerting ICE whenever they come across someone whose immigration status may be questioned. These are areas where we can demand transparency, and uphold our local governments to protect their immigrants. I personally know of one person in Sacramento who was arrested by ICE agents waiting for him the moment he was released on bail from court… And Sacramento is supposed to be a sanctuary city! As long as the general population turns a blind eye to these happenings they will continue to take place. Are you willing to let your elected officials sell out your immigrant communities?
This map shows all of the areas where local governments have contracts in place with ICE for immigrant detention. If we hold our local agencies and authorities accountable and demand they refuse to cooperate with ICE, then the power that ICE holds over our communities will be weakened. And that is how we can start effectively dismantling the machine: by removing funding, services, and all the workings of the internal machinery.
It’s not just banks and companies who are profiting from immigration detention either. Our lawmakers are receiving money from private prison companies through PACs (Political Action Committees) and/or direct donations. California lawmakers, for example, have received a lot of money from GEO Group and Core Civic, with Democrats raking in more of this prison cash than the Republicans. Granted, the Democrats are bigger than the Republicans in California, which would therefore account for the bigger spend, but still, how can you state you are fighting for immigrant rights while accepting money from the companies that detain them?
Even Gavin Newsom, a popular progressive who is running for governor this year, received $5,000 from GEO Group! And half of California’s LGBT caucus also accepted cash from private prison corporations. Private prison lobbying is certainly a thing. Candidates then turn around and donate money to immigrant causes. How does this even make sense? Do they feel less hypocritical that way? It’s time we started calling them out on these practices. I certainly wouldn’t want to vote for someone who accepted money from the same companies that are profiting from the criminalization of immigration. Would you?
On the other hand we have charities such as RAICES who are publicly declining donations from companies who continue to contract with ICE, preferring to remain true to their cause and word. Publicly calling these contracts out works. Companies like Salesforce and Microsoft try to hide their dealings with ICE behind veils and denials, but the exchange of money is proof that they are complicit in ripping families apart. If they pulled the plugs on their contracts they could help end the way ICE works today. They obviously are not going to do this if we ask nicely by knocking lightly on their doors, so we need to put pressure on them to do so.
Circling back to private prisons and the growing power that they wield over the country: new, larger centers are being built, not only along the borders, also within the country, to make room for all of the people that ICE is detaining*. Detaining undocumented aliens isn’t a new issue, but the ramping up of arrests and detentions is. Especially of immigrants who have not committed any crimes, and have been living in the US for years, decades even. Families are being ripped apart at the border, but also all over the country.
Often the location of centers has little to do with the border and the number of immigrants, but more to do with infrastructure, cost, collaborations with the local authorities, and the time required to be up and running. If a center can be up within a month next to a small town in Iowa, but would take a year to build in Texas, then ICE is going to run with Iowa. The main point is that these centers are appearing rapidly all over the country. And the military is collaborating with DHS to house as many migrants as possible too.
Everyone wants a piece of the pie, but no one wants to admit how complicit they are in the making of that pie.
There are certain immigrant detainment requirements and standards that ICE is supposed to adhere to, however, a recent report by the DHS revealed that internal inspections often do not comply with requirements and are not frequent enough to ensure corrections are upheld. Basically the DHS concurs that ICE does not adhere to detention standards, but at the same time won’t really provide a proper solution to this issue apart from an “ICE will do better now!” Another internal report, from December 2017, provides a list of many basic human rights violations: abuse, withholding of necessities including medical care, and so on and so forth. Same conclusion: “ICE will do better”. And still, children are locked up in cages in freezing centers, people are dying in detention, people are being sexually abused and silenced, pregnant women are being shackled and denied medical care, sometimes leading to miscarriage, just to name some of what appears to be rampant abuse and violation. Sen. Kamala Harris has introduced legislation to end abuse in detention centers, but until ICE and those they employ are held properly accountable for their abuse nothing will change. You only have to look at allegations from Adelanto Processing Center, and Otay Mesa Detention Center, amongst many others, to see that noting is being done. Immigrants are being treated worse than criminals.
In addition to ICE continuously violating human rights, their contractors’ treatment of detained migrants is also pretty dire. GEO Group and Core Civic’s notorious history of abuse and neglect is common knowledge these days, but other companies such as MVM have also been accused of abuse. Human rights violations are not just restricted to detention centers: they are regular occurrences in all of ICE’s operations. And while ICE is now the largest federal law enforcement agency, they are also the least policed internally.
If you are a white US citizen with no close ties with immigrants you have most likely never seen or heard of an ICE raid in your area. Maybe you have read about them on the news recently, but you are most likely blissfully unaware of how they go about arresting people. Arrests within the country have gone up significantly, and raids are often conducted military-style, or with agents lying in wait outside schools or courts. ICE currently employs over 20,000 people in 400 offices around the country, and they are literally terrorizing immigrant communities in the US. (The DHS actually currently employs over 55,000 armed law enforcement officers, making it larger than the FBI). It’s no secret that the current administration has established an ongoing pattern of dehumanizing as well as targeting black and brown people, and ICE follows this pattern by continuously targeting immigrants of color. White, European, immigrants seem to be left alone for the most part.
We have to talk about these issues as they stand without beating around the bush: ICE is an agency built on fear, expanded by hate, financed by big business, and left to run rampant. This is why ICE needs to go.
Conclusion: immigration has effectively been criminalized. With the introduction of the zero tolerance policy, migrants are now being detained and prosecuted, whether at the border or within the country. Those who are deported face 10 year or even permanent re-entry bans, and are usually detained for months, even years during the prosecution process. Operation Streamline is being expanded, where migrants are prosecuted in large groups, all chained together in court, without proper due process. Small peaceful pro-immigrant protests are surrounded by cops while ICE hovers outside Hispanic supermarkets and walks into Greyhound buses demanding proof of citizenship and/or immigration documentation. And what about all of the stories of abuse and human rights violations that people are reporting at the hands of ICE agents as mentioned above? These stories are not of one-off rogue agents, but deeply embedded into the ICE way of life, according to internal and external reports.
Ending family separation is just the visible tip of the iceberg, because once you go deeper there is a lot of dark matter buried right under the surface of the water. The demand that ICE be abolished completely is not a radical one, but a necessity. ICE was born out of fear and hatred of the “other”, has expanded on that foundation, and been left to their own devices to do all of the dirty deeds no one wants to talk about. Many people only started making a fuss about ICE because of the zero tolerance policy, but those of us who have to live with the idea that one day ICE is going to be knocking at our door, those of us who have a detailed plan of action for our kids and other loved ones “just in case”, know exactly what they have been getting away with in our communities for years.
ICE is not held accountable for any of their actions, and never will be, and should therefore be disbanded. We can continue to demand that Congress defunds ICE, but, more importantly, we must also push all of the companies that profit from ICE and from criminalizing immigration to cut all ties with them. Shaming them into doing so in the public eye is the best possible way to make this work.
Once the cards start falling the beast will lose its power and ability to function. It’s time to get rid of the status quo, fighting only when the rot becomes visible. There is nothing radical about requesting a rogue police force who operates on fear and targets people of color to be abolished, neither is there anything radical about demanding a complete overhaul of the current inherently problematic immigration system.
If you want to join in and fight against ICE, for-profit prisons, mass incarceration of black and brown people, police brutality, and the criminalization of immigration there are actions happening all over the country on a regular basis. Cosecha has called for a national day of action on July 31st to #AbolishICE that will target government institutions and corporations to end their contracts with ICE. Mijente are demanding the full scale decriminalization of immigration. The ACLU have information on their website on how to get involved. Check Facebook for local activist groups and events, and join a protest or other action. Many cities around the country are staging #OccupyICE protests to demand that ICE be dismantled.
*The issues with private prisons are obviously not only limited to immigration detention, but to incarceration in general. For more information on for-profit mass incarceration, institutionalized racism, and the school to prison pipeline I highly recommend Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow).