Banking on Detention: Demonstrators Call on Wells Fargo to Divest from Private Prisons


FRIDAY DEC 14, 2012 12:10 PM


New York demonstrators call on Scopia to divest from private prisons.   (Photo courtesy of Andalusia K. Soloff)

After Ancelma’s husband was deported to Mexico, she found herself unable to close a bank account with Wells Fargo that was accruing overdraft fees. Though it has marketed itself as a bank of choice for the Latino community—accepting matricula cards that give undocumented immigrants access to banking services and even establishing “Wells Fargo Amigos” outreach teams—the bank refused to accept her husband’s authorization to close the account because it was written in Spanish.

The family soon learned this wasn’t the only way in which Wells Fargo is less “immigrant-friendly” than it first appears: The financial institution also invests heavily in the private prison industry that lobbies for and profits from harsher immigration enforcement and detention.

Ancelma’s story is one of several detailed in a series of reports urging Wells Fargo to break ties with private prison operators. In September, National People’s Action and the National Prison Divestment Campaign exposed that the bank was heavily invested in two major such companies with nearly $100 million of holdings in Geo Group and nearly $3 million in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The groups launched a public pressure campaign, branding the bank “Jails Fargo” and holding demonstrations outside its branches. In late October, they declared victory when Wells Fargo’s most recent SEC filings revealed that it had divested more than a third of its holdings in GEO Group.

Prison divestment organizers are encouraged by this move, but say it doesn’t yet go far enough. During a national day of action yesterday, activists in nine cities staged demonstrations to call for full divestment from the private prison industry. “Wells Fargo still provides a $700 million line of credit without which CCA could not build new prisons,” explains Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, executive director of Enlace, a national alliance of low-wage worker centers that coordinates the National Prison Divestment Campaign. “And beyond this, we’re asking all institutions, public and private, to cut ties with this industry—much as people of conscience divested from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.”

The National Prison Divestment Campaign, launched in spring 2011, brings together labor and faith organizations with immigrant rights groups alarmed by the explosion of private detention centers. In 2005, private prison operators gained a major foothold in the field of immigrant detention with the start of Operation Streamline, a policy mandating criminal, as opposed to civil, prosecution of undocumented immigrants crossing the border. As the result of this shift, and the redefinition of acts like “illegal border crossing” as immigration felonies, Latinos now constitute the majority of those sentenced for federal crimes. Nearly half of immigrants convicted of such crimes are held in private facilities.

The private prison industry has been involved in lobbying heavily for both new immigrant detention centers and tougher enforcement policies that will help fill them. In 2010, In These Times reporter Beau Hodai uncovered CCA’s pivotal role in shaping SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Thirty out of the 36 state legislators who co-sponsored the bill received campaign contributions from private prison companies. Though the Supreme Court struck down three out of the bill’s four provisions earlier this year, the “show me your papers” law that invites racial profiling by law enforcement remained intact, and has since taken effect in Arizona.

SB 1070 is far from the only instance where private prison companies have prevailed in securing such lucrative arrangements. During the past decade, the AP reported in August, the three major private prison companies have spent $45 million in lobbying and campaign contributions. This was money well-spent: Whereas ten years ago, private prison operators held two federal contracts worth about $760 million, the Federal Bureau of Prisons today pays these companies $5.1 billion through 13 different contracts.

The result is more than 23,000 immigrants detained for federal crimes, up from just over 3,000 a decade ago. Cervantes-Gautschi asserts that this drastic increase is clearly the result of profit-motivated policy shifts: “More than half of immigrants in the federal prison system are being held for things not even considered crimes six years ago,” he says.

Demonstrations held across the country yesterday targeted Wells Fargo, GEO headquarters, and the hedge fund Scopia, which according to Enlace holds over 9 million shares in GEO group. As New York demonstrators assembled outside Scopia’s offices, protesters carried life-sized black silhouettes labeled “missing” to symbolize the destruction of communities wrought by rising levels of detention.

“Each silhouette represents a missing member of our community,” explains Andalusia Soloff of the group Families for Freedom. “A person who, no matter the legal status, residency, or citizenship of the person has been removed and sent away, leaving their families and loved ones behind.”


Rebecca BurnsIn These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.

EXPOSED: Wells Fargo Banks on Immigrant Detention

EXPOSED: Wells Fargo Banks on Immigrant Detention

For the last year National People’s Action (NPA), as part of the National Prison Divestment Campaign has been organizing to get Wells Fargo to divest from financing private prisons. While Wells is investing in aggressive customer outreach to the Latino community, it is also providing critical financing to private prison corporations that lobby to prevent reform of a broken immigration system. They can’t have it both ways.

NPA and Public Accountability Initiative just released the first of 2 reports, Wells Fargo: Banking on Immigrant Detention, that details Wells Fargo’s direct financing of private prisons known for their inhumane conditions and for trying to block immigration reform. Key finding include:
Prison industry giants Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group doubled annual revenue in the last 10 years to a combined $3.3 billion in 2011, in major part due to the increase in immigrant detention centers.
Wells Fargo provides critical financing to Corrections Corporation of America, including a $785 million line of credit.
Wells controls $95.5 million in GEO Group stock through its mutual funds, and serves as trustee for $300 million of the company’s corporate debt.

You can read the report here:



Please take action and sign the petition:

Punishment and Profits: Immigration Detention

Fault Lines investigates the business of immigrant detention in the US.

“Immigration is a key issue in the US presidential election, with the Republican candidates trying to demonstrate their tough stance on undocumented immigrants.

But under the Obama administration, the detention and deportation of immigrants has reached an all-time high.

Every day, the US government detains more than 33,000 non-citizens at the cost of $5.5mn a day. That is a lot of money for the powerful private prison industry, which spends millions of dollars on lobbying and now operates nearly half of the country’s immigration detention centres.

Fault Lines travels to Texas and Florida to investigate the business of immigrant detention in the US and to find out how a handful of companies have managed to shape US immigration laws.”

Mapping the Matrix – ALEC, Government Surveillance and the Money Trail

Mapping the Matrix – ALEC, Government Surveillance and the Money Trail

RWG Membership Conference Call

Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm ET / 12:00 pm PT

The government is collecting more data on everyday activities in more ways than ever before. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pairs corporations with politicians to pass state anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 and other regressive proposals. The privatization of prisons has introduced a profit motive to incarceration. Join RWG for a member call to learn about these issues, and what you can do about it.


  • Lisa Graves, Center for Media and Democracy
  • Kung Li, civil rights litigator
  • Daniel Carrillo, ENLACE
  • Jumana Musa, Deputy Director, Rights Working Group (Moderator)

RSVP HERE (please rsvp to receive the conference call information.)

Occupy for Prisoners rally held in Durham

A former prisoner who spent 20 years in jail holds a signOccupy for Prisoners rally held in Durham

By Kosta Harlan | February 21, 2012 | Fight Back News
Durham, NC – Holding signs and shaking noise-makers, about 50 people gathered outside the Durham County Detention Facility on Feb. 20. The protest brought out a diverse group of people, who held banners that read “No more prisons” and “Solidarity with prisoners everywhere.” Others held placards saying, “End prisoners abuse and solitary confinement.” Dozens of people honked their car horns in support as they drove past the demonstration.

In the distance and several stories above, inmates crowded around the few windows that looked out onto the plaza, waving to the demonstrators. Continue reading

Colorado Congressman wants Investigation into Abuse of LGBT Immigrants in Detention

Jared Polis wants investigation into abuse of LGBT immigrants in detention

By Melanie Asmar | January 9 2012 | Denver Westword

Colorado Congressman Jared Polis has called for a government investigation into alleged abuse suffered by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender immigrants detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Here we have people who are at their most vulnerable — many without access to any legal assistance — who are being preyed upon and assaulted,” Polis said in a statement. “LGBT immigrants appear to be special targets for abuse.” Continue reading

Business is Booming for the Prison Profiteers

Business is Booming for the Prison Profiteers

by JAMES KILGORE | Counterpunch | January 9, 2012

Private corrections company The GEO Group celebrated the holiday season by opening a new 1,500 bed prison in Milledgeville, Georgia on December 12th. The $80 million facility is expected to generate approximately $28.0 million in annual revenues.

Though GEO (formerly Wackenhut) is hardly a household name, they are a major player in the private corrections sector, combining a self righteous amorality in profiting from human misery with a ruthless sense of just how to make a buck in this business. The GEO Group is so notorious that they were the target of an Occupy Washington D.C. action in early December. In addition,  the United Methodist Church sold off more than $200,000 in stock in GEO Group over the holiday season, judging that holding these shares was “incompatible with Bible teaching.” Continue reading

Wells Fargo, king of private prisons, shut down for the day; seven arrested

Wells Fargo, king of private prisons, shut down for the day; seven arrested

by Adrienne Lauby | SF Bay View | January 8, 2012

Santa Rosa, Calif. – On Dia de Reyes, the Day the Three Kings, a false king was exposed. Wells Fargo is the king of private prison finance, a king who shows no remorse as it forecloses on the houses and homes of its victims. But, on Friday afternoon, Jan. 6, two branches of Wells Fargo in Santa Rosa were closed for the day and seven people were arrested after they did civil disobedience inside the banks.

At a rally prior to the march to shut down the banks are, from left, an ASL interpreter, two women from the Women’s Collective at Graton Day Labor Center, Maureen Purtell, Rick Coshnear and Jesus Guzman. – Photo: Attila Nagy

The protest, a collaboration between the immigrant rights community and the Occupy movement, drew 400-500 people for a march and rally. Their target, Wells Fargo, is the trustee of a fund that is heavily invested in two private prison corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group. These corporations own a majority of the detention centers that house undocumented immigrants across the U.S. Continue reading

Cronyism, political donations surround detention center in Newark, says report by immigrant advocates

Cronyism, political donations surround detention center in Newark, says report by immigrant advocates

By Eunice Lee/The Star-Ledger
NEWARK — Immigrant advocates released a report Tuesday detailing what they describe as campaign contributions and hidden political ties behind the nonprofit group that subcontracts services for Delaney Hall, a private detention facility in Newark.

The 19-page report comes almost a week after the Essex County freeholders awarded a lucrative immigrant-detention contract to the group, Education and Health Centers of America. Immigration advocates include in the report what they describe as “crony connections and a system of elected and un-elected political bosses in Essex County which limit transparency and oversight” surrounding the detention center. Continue reading

Demand Wells Fargo Divest from Private Prisons and Pay Reparations to Our Community

Join Xin Fronteras in Demanding Wells Fargo Divest from Private Prisons and Pay Reparations to the Community

Saturday December 17th at 11am

Wells Fargo Bank (1144 East Florence, South Central LA)

Xin Fronteras exists as a force to fight kapitalism and to build community. The fluidity of sexuality, gender, and sex in the Joteria community shows us that if we internalize a life without borders, we can begin to decolonize our minds. It is time to create a mass political movement that reflects our reality and embraces our identities. We are a queers/trans community group working in South Central and East Los Angeles.

No Private Prison CCA in Southwest Ranches

The Town of Southwest Ranches, Corrections Corporation of American (CCA), and DHS / ICE want to build one of the largest immigration detention centers in the nation within walking distance of thousands of homes; thus, reducing the quality of our life and our community.

We do not believe spending federal tax dollars through a federal per diem payment to CCA and SWR is a valid use of tax dollars considering we are deficit spending with reckless abandon.

CCA has a history of lawsuits and grotesque human rights violations. Further, we do not believe our corporations should play any role in the immigration problems we face as a nation. Their involvement exacerbates the issue, builds in a monetary incentive to destroy the lives of families, and is not a constructive addition to any immigration reform solution. Visit the website for more information

Wall Street and Immigration: Financial Services Giants Have Profited from the Beginning

Wall Street and Immigration: Financial Services Giants Have Profited from the Beginning

By Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, Enlace Executive Director

Published by the Americas Program 

Life began to get hard for most Americans beginning in the late 1990s due to increased family debt. During the same period, life got a lot harder for most Mexicans for the same reason. The same financial institutions created and profited from much of the family debt in both countries.

According to census reports, 70% of the government unauthorized immigrants in the United States are from Mexico. Most legally unauthorized Mexican immigrants in the United States are economic refugees from the 1995 devastation of Mexico’s economy.

While it is popular among U.S. presidential candidates these days to blame Mexican corruption for our huge undocumented immigrant population, corruption in the United States played a far larger role in compelling millions of Mexicans to cross our southern border with or without legal authorization. U.S. corruption came in the form of politicians implementing and enforcing foreign policies that yielded unprecedented profits for their well-heeled campaign contributors in the financial services industry. They probably didn’t break U.S. law to accomplish this, but they did force Mexico to break its own laws to implement their program.

Led by Wall Street heavies Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citi, Fidelity, Chase, and others, these finance industry leaders got Congress to permit financial institutions to increase family debt in the United States by enacting legislation friendly to mega-banks (financial holding companies) while thwarting consumer-friendly legislation. The same U.S.-based financial services leaders played a leading role in increasing family debt to unmanageable levels in Mexico in the mid to late 1990s through their influence of the U.S. Congress. Continue reading