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Marvin’s Labyrinth

Marvin Corado believed he would be happy once he was free. “As we were before,” He said on the eve of being released from detention at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida in 2012. “A family that none of these obstacles could separate.”

The obstacles mentioned by Corado were related to the ordeal that he, his wife, and daughter lived since they arrived to the U.S. looking for a job and stability, 16 years ago.

The Corado family never saw their dream come to fruition. “The husband who left my house one day to go to work did not return (…). I don’t know, I don’t know what has happened, but my life hasn’t been the same since he had to enter the immigration facility, unfortunately,” said his wife Leslie.

For three and a half years the team from Univision Investiga followed the footsteps of this 32-year-old immigrant from Guatemala in an attempt to understand the breadth of the legal and illegal deals that have hovered around his drama, starting from the day his father mortgaged their house to pay the human trafficker that brought him to the United States, and ending with the final payment to an immigration lawyer in Miami.

Marvin’s stay at this detention center for immigrants meant that on average revenues upwards of 20,000 dollars went to GEO Group, the company that owns that center. During the year that Marvin was detained GEO Group received an average of 166 dollars per detainee every night a figure that today has gone up to 193 dollars.

“Immigration is a very lucrative business for investors, stockholders and politicians,” explained Daniel Carrillo, director of Enlace, an organization that looks after the rights of immigrants.

After 2008, the profile for detainees and deportees shifted from that of immigrants with criminal sentences or who were recent arrivals to that of working age men who have lived in the United States for longer than one year, some during most of their lives. Immigrants were no longer being detained solely for having committed crimes, but for much simpler reasons, often for traffic infractions as was the case with Marvin.

When he was detained, Marvin had been in the United States 12 years and was on his way to work. “I was arrested for not having a license. I was waiting for the green light, the police officer pulled up alongside me this way, on the left side, next to me, and waited until the light turned green, and he then turned on his flashing lights.”

He was held in a prison for three months. The day he was released the immigration judge told his wife, as she recalls: “‘Now you can go have dinner with your family.’ And we believed her.” Instead of that, they kept him 129 more days at the detention center.

The companies that run detention centers not only receive generous subsidies from the government, but they also reduce their operational costs to a minimum by employing inmates for trivial sums.

Marvin worked in the detention center kitchen for four and a half hours for one dollar a day. According to Marvin, the detainees did all the work, such as cleaning, kitchen detail and laundry. In the kitchen, he added, there was only one outside employee working there; the rest of the labor was done by the detainees themselves.

Conditions which led immigrants in an Aurora detention center to file a class action lawsuit in Colorado against GEO group. The plaintiffs said that they were the victims of “forced labor” and that sometimes they didn’t even receive the meagre salary of one dollar per day of work. The litigation is still in progress.

Wilberth Góngora, a Mexican who for the past 18 years of his life had lived in Denver, where two of his children were born, was detained in August of last year in Aurora.

“A package of 20 crackers would cost us $3, yet the street value was 99 cents. Well, there they doubled the prices. Also, a soft drink can cost almost $3,” Wilberth recounted.

Another common problem was the charges for telephone calls. They were made by means of cards that had to be activated through a company that was authorized by the facility. Calls were a twenty cents a minute equivalent to an hour and a half of labor.

“The telephone companies have monopoly control over the charges they assess for making these calls. This means that the families [at the detention centers] encounter difficulties in speaking with their lawyers or family and relatives,” stated California Assembly Member Lorena González, who represents cities situated to the south of San Diego.

González has fought against these abuses and one more that turns out to be recurrent: fraud committed by lawyers. She has managed to have two legislative bills passed that protect the undocumented from being made to pay upfront with the false promise that they will be first in line to have their cases settled, once the litigation related to President Obama’s executive action has ended.

Since the year 2000, the Justice Department has suspended 673 litigators nationwide, mostly in California, New York, Florida and Washington, DC.

Marvin explained to Univision Investiga that he has paid more than 10,000 dollars to the six lawyers he has had, and that the results have been disappointing.

“They took advantage of me. They charge me a certain amount of money, (they say) that they will get my paperwork done, that they will talk to immigration, that they will send the papers, and then they tell me that immigration rejected them (…) I have wasted a lot of money, and the truth is that this continues being the same, they have not solved anything,” he related.

Among immigrants who are not considered by ICE to pose a high risk of escaping from the immigration authorities before their court date, the Alternate Detention Program has been implemented, which also benefits private businesses, and works by means of electronic devices attached to their ankles that serve as virtual shackles.

Thanks to pressure from civil organizations and the fact that his wife demonstrated in front of the center and went public with his case, Marvin was not deported. Wilberth, however, did become part of the 2.8 million individuals deported by ICE during this six-year period, according to statistics from 2008 to 2015.

Many of them are transferred within the United States and to their countries of origin onboard private planes chartered by the immigration authorities. A report issued in April of 2015 by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated that the private companies performing these transfers move many detainees back and forth to the same place, on flights that are half empty, prior to deporting them.

The main beneficiary of this part of the deal is CSI Aviation Services of New Mexico, owned by Allen Weh, a Marine veteran of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq who was also a Republican candidate for US senator in 2014. During Obama’s two terms, his company has earned more than 790 million dollars thanks to these transfers.

Once they are in Mexico, many of the deportees find a second chance for employment at companies that run call centers that benefit from this new profile that provides them with employees that are not only bilingual but also bicultural.

Just in the border city of Tijuana, the second busiest point of entry for deportees to Mexico, the call centers employ 12,000 people, of whom 70% are deportees, according to what Jorge Oros said to Univision. Oros is president of a call center cluster in Baja California. In Mexico, these repatriated individuals earn one fifth as much as they did in the United States for doing the same work.

“There is a business built around deportations,” stated González. “Everywhere, starting with the lawyers and ending with the telephone companies and private prisons. We know people are making a lot of money,” she concluded.