Lost, Abused and Neglected for a Profit

Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez is a 50-year-old legal resident with a mental disability. In 2004, Gomez was detained because of a dispute at a grocery store over a bag of tomatoes. His detention led him into a labyrinth of abuse and neglect – in an immigration system that increasingly puts profit over justice by handing the reigns to private prison corporations.

Cuéntame’s Immigrants For Sale campaign has documented the case of Guillermo, who got lost in this system, while his mother Dolores Gomez-Sanchez spent years desperately searching for answers. The problem: Guillermo was sent to a private detention facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Dolores approached immigration authorities, but time and again was told that because Guillermo was in a CCA facility his case was no longer their problem. At one point the only information immigration officials could offer her was that Guillermo was beaten by guards and hospitalized after requesting to use a bathroom.

Private prison corporations like CCA do not care who and how they lock immigrants up. At a rate of up to $200 per inmate per night, this is the “perfect” money scheme. As such, CCA failed to report Guillermo’s condition – why should they? The longer Guillermo was locked up the more money in their coffers. Guillermo spent two years in CCA’s detention center. At average contract rates, the operator pocketed an estimated $90,000 off of his incarceration.

According to Bardis Vakili, the lawyer handling the Gomez-Sanchez case – this is a typical case where families have a hard time locating their detained relatives. “Getting to these big corporations represents a nightmare for people that don’t have a law degree,” he said. Detained immigrants also don’t have the right to an attorney, which further exacerbates their struggle.

CCA along with the GEO GROUP and Management and Training Corporation currently profit close to $5 billion a year – with immigrant detention revenue representing a strong portion of their income. They view the anti-immigrant movement as a positive step to increase the value of their stock. In fact, this year CCA’s share price is at record levels, oscillating around $26. In 2010, CCA CEO Damon T. Hininger received $3,266,387 in total compensation. The more immigrants detained, the more bed spaces they can fill and the more their stock shoots up. It’s the perfect money machine and they have no intention of letting that go.

Just last year the “major three” spent close to $20 million in lobbying and campaign contribution efforts. These corporations have been tied to the passage of anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona’s SB1070 and Georgia’s HB87 in an effort standardize the criminalization of immigrants across the country. As Guillermo’s story demonstrates, the consequence of this is a system that eats immigrants up in a for-profit scheme. As Guillermo himself puts it, once you are in “it is very hard to get out.”

Why do we leave our immigration system in the hands of corporations? How many more people are suffering and lost in a system that values profit over justice? Join the ongoing discussion led by Cuéntame and its Immigrant For Saledocumentary campaign.