A teaser: TISA, Trump and the security industry
21 February 2017
Question: What’s the connection between US President Donald Trump, GEO group – the private prison operator that runs Dungavel immigration centre, and TISA, the super-privatisation global trade deal?
The answer: They all make, or will make, huge profits for the security industry (the companies that run for-profit prisons and immigration centres in the UK and the US).
GEO group is a US company with a UK branch that runs Dungavel immigration centre in Scotland, and also Hamondsworth in London. The company is the second biggest private prison company in the US, where private prisons are commonplace. GEO group also runs immigration centres across the US, and used to run the ‘Migrant Operation Centre’ at Guantanamo Bay.
Since Donald Trump’s election, things are looking rosy for the GEO group. Share prices have soared: a share in the GEO group is now worth 67% more than it was before 7 November. Why? Trump wants more private prisons. While the Obama administration blew hot and cold when it came to private prisons, and both Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders vowed they would ban them; Trump said on the campaign trail: ‘I do think we can do a lot of privatisations and private prisons.’ He also talked about the up to 3 million undocumented immigrant ‘criminals’ to ‘incarcerate’(the figure of 3 million seems to possibly have been completely made up). Meanwhile, during Trump’s election campaign, the GEO group was busy making large, and possibly illegal, donations ($225,000) to pro-Trump super PAC (campaign group) ’Rebuilding America Now’.
As Trump’s racist campaigning continues into his presidency, it looks like there will be plenty of work for, and plenty of opportunity for profit, for companies like the GEO group who operate both private prisons and immigration detention centres.
TISA is the Trade In Services Agreement: a super-privatisation deal that is currently being negotiated by more than 50 countries, including the US and the EU. The UK government has already said it is keen to sign up to TISA after Brexit.
TISA’s focus is on opening up the global market for services. This includes public services like health, and education, water (still public in Scotland); and also services privatised in the UK that we might like to consider for renationalisation in the future like the railways, energy, and the Post office. It would also include security services – private prisons and immigration detention centres.
While Trump has signalled his intention to rip up NAFTA, TTIP and TPP, he has kept quiet about the TISA trade deal so far. But it is likely he will favour this one as it is not about industrial goods, it is about privatisation which he likes, and it is likely to be very profitable for US companies (like the GEO group, for instance).
TISA will ‘lock in’ the privatisation of services – even where there is evidence that privatisation has failed. If the process of privatisation has begun – so for example, in Scotland at the moment we have two private prisons - TISA will speed up that process and then lock in the privatisation, making it incredibly difficult for us to renationalise that service. This is of course is great news for the security industry, and for the profits of its shareholders.
A growing market for the security industry in Scotland?
The idea of making a profit from criminal justice – or in the case of immigration detention centres, criminally unjust incarceration, is surely morally repugnant to most people. To be encouraging a market in security services through TISA is completely the wrong direction of travel. In the US, where for-profit prisons are big business, and the GEO group can spend $4 million on lobbying between 2004 and 2014, State administrations sign agreements with private prisons to guarantee they will fill a certain number of beds – 90% is the most common agreement. And immigration detention has become linked to this growth in for-profit prisons. In the US, there were 230,000 people in immigration detention centres in 2005. The numbers had almost doubled by 2013 to 440,600 . Likewise, the amount of money the US government spent on immigration detention increased from $700 million in 2005 to $2 billion today. So, in the UK, the greater opportunity there is for the security industry to thrive, the more people are likely to be incarcerated in private prisons and immigration centres, and the more money the taxpayer will be aiding the profits of companies like the GEO group. TISA will create this opportunity.
This month, the Home Office announced that Dungavel - the immigration centre in Scotland run by the GEO group - was to stay open. The UK government did have plans to close the centre, replacing it with a temporary holding facility near Glasgow airport but planning permission was rejected. Around 200 people are currently being held at Dungavel and there are around 30,000 people locked up in detention centres across the UK, 228 children amongst them.
Immigration detention centres are immoral and unnecessary. Yet with deals like TISA, and an ambassador like Donald Trump, things might be getting worse not better. We need to fight for an end to an industry that makes a profit from the incarceration of human beings.