The Supreme Court's Ruling on Immigrant Detention Is a Huge Win for Private Prisons

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The Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday that people in immigrant detention do not have a right to a periodic bond hearing is a major win for the for-profit prison industry, which can continue to be supplied by the federal government with immigrants to fill its empty beds.


In its 5–3 opinion Tuesday, the court ruled that undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, and permanent residents in immigrant detention have no inherent right to a bond hearing—meaning that they could be held indefinitely. The ruling reversed a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had ruled that immigrants had a right to a bond hearing every six months.

The average daily population of people in immigration custody in 2017 was just over 38,000—with more than 70 percent of immigrants detained in private, for-profit jails. This means that any ruling or policy that prolongs the detention of immigrants is good for the corporations that run the jails.

“The Supreme Court has effectively handed private prison companies a victory with this ruling,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder of the immigrant rights group CIVIC, which tracks conditions inside detention centers. (The non-profit group CIVIC has no relation to the private prison corporation CoreCivic.)

“It signals to them that they can continue to profit off the misery of immigrants—indefinitely,” Fialho told Splinter via email.

Two for-profit prison companies—the GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) hold 72 percent of privately contracted immigration detention beds, according to a 2015 report from Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit whose mission is to shut down for-profit prison facilities. Both have seen their profits spike under Donald Trump’s presidency. And they could continue to benefit even more: Trump’s 2018 budget plan requested an increase in the number of available immigrant detention beds to over 48,000.

ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham, who argued the Supreme Court case, said in a statement that he looks forward to continuing to fight this case in lower courts. In the meantime, immigrants will stay in jails. Taxpayers will continue to foot the bill. And private prison companies will continue to thrive.

Senior staff writer