An American flag overlooks the prison. On the same pole waves a flag with the CoreCivic logo. Past the barbed wire gates, families wait for a one-hour visit with their loved one in immigration detention, whom they’ll see through a thick sheet of glass wearing a prison jumpsuit. No electronic devices or books are allowed inside, so the only thing to do is wait. A woman visiting her fiancé sits in the corner and cries. A family that drove 12 hours to get there struggles to stay awake. A small, restless boy runs around until a guard scolds his mother. Photos of people high up in the CoreCivic company hang on the wall — six of them, all old, white men with empty eyes and eerie smiles. It feels like they are watching and ignoring the scene beneath them.
The photos hanging above the families exemplify two American dreams. First, there is the idea that anyone can come to America and there will be a place for them. Second, there is the American dream in the grandest sense, the idea that a small number of individuals can make outrageous sums of money and reach the top of the social hierarchy. Unregulated capitalism allows for the second version of the American dream to exist, destroying the first version in turn.
When companies like CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group can make more than $12 billion, much of it coming from locking up people whose crime was being in this country, they destroy any hope that this first “American dream” is anything more than propaganda. They are corrupt. They use their financial power to ensure that minimum quotas remain in place. To maximize profits, they cut costs in any way possible. There have been complaints about expired and insect-infested food.
Additionally, there is a 2016 report by Detention Watch Network titled “A Toxic Relationship: Private Prisons and U.S. Immigration Detention” that reveals how inmates with earaches, knee pain, post-surgery vomiting and fever, and broken fingers received no medical attention other than instruction to drink water. CoreCivic and similar companies get away with this because of their political influence. According to the Washington Post, as of 2015, CoreCivic and GEO, the second-largest private prison company, had spent more than $10 million on campaign donations and almost $25 million on lobbying efforts since 1989.
The undoing of the unregulated capitalism that allows companies to profit off of human suffering can’t be solved with a simple call to action. As citizens we must do whatever we can to hold companies like CoreCivic accountable by paying attention to what they do and refusing to elect and re-elect people like Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia, Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat in Texas (Jessica Cisneros, an immigration and human rights lawyer, will be running against him in the 2020 house race. She has the support of Justice Democrats, the progressive group that backed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez since the beginning of her campaign), and others who protect their interests.
You can organize a group of people and visit individuals at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, who request visitors through the nonprofit El Refugio. You can get involved with an organization like mine, Young Immigration Activists of Atlanta. You can donate to nonprofits such as El Refugio, Kids In Need of Defense, Project Corazon Travel Fund, and more. When an American flag overlooks a private prison holding individuals about to be deported, that flag no longer represents freedom for all; it represents freedom for those with power at the expense of the freedom for those without power. It is a warning that capitalism has gone too far.
Emma Schwartz is a senior at the Paideia School. She founded her school’s immigration activism club during her freshman year and has plans to expand it to all Atlanta teens under the name Young Immigration Activists of Atlanta.