There has been little attention paid to the significant financial incentives that fuel harsh and punitive migration policies, what might be called the “financialization of migration.” What are the financial interests and profit incentives that contribute to bad policies and bad outcomes for migrants to the U.S.?

This analysis focuses on corporations profiting from private immigration detention and from increases in U.S. federal budget expenditures on immigration enforcement, e.g. construction of a “wall” on the southwestern border, and expenditures on border surveillance and other technologies. For example, the privatization of the detention of immigrants has been a growing trend, creating direct and substantial profits for a small number of private, for-profit prison corporations.

Every election cycle, these private prison corporations make millions of dollars in political contributions. These corporations also spend millions of dollars on lobbying since their contracts with federal agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement are such an important line of business. These private prison and immigration detention corporations also have had direct influence on federal and state legislation that would increase the levels of immigration detention, which would create additional business, contracts, and profits.

The Trump administration’s plans to build a wall will create profiteering opportunities for additional corporations. Construction corporations already have profited from these federal government contracts.

There also is a significant relationship between increased federal government spending on immigration enforcement and additional business opportunities and profits for the multi-billion dollar U.S. defense contractor industry. Spending on immigration enforcement has included surveillance technologies, drones, heat sensors, radiation-based monitors, and iris and face recognition technologies.

For the FY2019 budget, the Trump administration has requested $2.7 billion for immigration detention, $1.6 billion for additional border wall construction, $571 million for 2,000 additional ICE personnel, $211 million for 750 additional Border Patrol personnel, and $182 million for additional border surveillance technology. Regardless of how many and where new private immigration detention facilities are built, and what specific border “wall” or other immigration enforcement expenditures are ultimately authorized by Congress, private, for-profit companies are poised to continue to gain multi-million dollar contracts and make significant profits from immigration enforcement.

 The paper was commissioned by the Ford Foundation through a contract with NEO Philanthropy.

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