Immigrants for Sale
Directed by Axel Caballero (2012)
Immigrants For Sale is a documentary about the $5 billion a year private detention industry. Corrections Corporation of America, The Geo Group, and the Management and Training Corporation run over 200 facilities across the US, a total of 150,000 bed spaces. Because these facilities are paid by the number of beds they fill, they have absolutely no incentive to speed up the legal process that might lead to detainees’ release. As one facility auctioneer puts it, thanks to harsh immigration laws and skyrocketing refugee numbers, there’s an “endless supply of product.”
The film closely examines the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right wing corporate lobby group founded by the Koch brothers, in writing anti-immigrant legislation adopted by various states and championing the construction of new private detention facilities. In most cases, state legislators with cozy relationships with ALEC and industry lobbyists impose these monstrosities on local communities against their wishes.
The filmmakers interview detainees’ families, immigrant rights groups and even former correctional officers who describe scandalous human rights violations by CCA et al, as well as their failure to provide nutritional food or adequate medical care or toilet facilities.
As a psychiatrist I was most appalled by the negligent and abusive treatment of mentally ill detainees. Because these facilities earn $197 a night to house detainees, they have no motivation to identify detainees with mental illness and transfer them to more appropriate treatment facilities. Detainees have no legal right to legal representation and often their families have no idea where they are. Both make their situation even more precarious. One mentally ill detainee featured in the film was beaten (one beating required hospitalization) and humiliated by corrections officers for three years before his mother secured his release.
Fortunately there is growing grassroots resistance to the private detention industry. One community successfully blocked – through sustained protest activity – the construction of a new detention facility. Another, Littlewood Texas, has been bankrupted by their decision to help bankroll a private detention facility. It remains vacant and unsold to this day.