Bank of America Is Now the Only Big Bank ‘Profiting From Family Separation’

Bank of America is among the dozen banks continuing to offer billions in credit to private prison corporations, even after two large banks have pledged to pull their support for the politically toxic industry.

[Photo: A person walks in front of a Bank of America branch.]
This isn’t a new arrangement for Bank of America, which has provided credit to for-profit prisons since 1997 when it entered into an agreement with GEO Group. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Two banks have withdrawn their support for the private prison industry, a key cog in President Trump’s anti-immigrant machinery, but that has hardly left for-profit prisons without Wall Street financing.

A report released Tuesday by In the Public Interest, the Public Accountability Initiative, and the Center for Popular Democracy detailed how Wall Street continues to finance private prisons that violate human rights. That includes financing from Bank of America, now the only top-six bank in the United States providing credit to the for-profit prison industry. While Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase announced last month that they would end their relationship with for-profit prisons, a host of banks large and small still provide more than $2.6 billion in credit to the industry favored by hardline anti-immigration policymakers.

The report’s data shows recent headlines about JP MorganChase and Wells Fargo ending their relationships with for-profit prison corporations are underselling U.S. banks’ vital role in backing an industry that only three years ago was on the political ropes, when the Obama administration said in August 2016 that it would end its relationship with the scandal-plagued private prisons.

The number of immigrants detained by the federal government has spiked during the Trump presidency, sending private prison stock prices soaring. Almost 3 in 4 detained immigrants are placed in prisons operated by for-profit corporations, according to the Detention Watch Network.

Bank of America, along with 13 other banks in the United States, provides lines of credit to the two major private prison corporations, GEO Group and CoreCivic, according to the data brief released this week. (That number will be lower after Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase follow through with their commitment to end their relationship with the industry). PNC, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and SunTrust have committed the largest lines of credit to privately run prisons.

This isn’t a new arrangement for Bank of America, which has provided credit to for-profit prisons since 1997, when it entered into an agreement with GEO Group. Bank of America has also “developed a close relationship” with Caliburn, “the only for-profit entity running migrant child detention facilities,” according to Tuesday’s report. Such facilities have been key in executing the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy that splits up families seeking asylum in the United States.

“Big banks, like Bank of America, should not be profiting off the suffering of refugee children and families,” Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of Families Belong Together, said in a statement. “Americans won’t stand by while corporations enable the Trump Administration to rip babies from their mothers arms, mass-incarcerate families, and traumatize thousands of children. JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo committing to stop financing private prisons was a major win. It’s time now for the rest of Wall Street to stop financing these human rights abuses.”

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan is a member of a business lobbying group that last year expressed “serious concern” about the Trump administration’s drastic changes to immigration policy—though that concern was related to restrictions that could affect skilled foreign workers, not immigrants being detained in private prisons with a record of human rights abuses. 

Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, said in a statement that Moynihan’s bank “is profiting from family separation and detention at the same time he is trying to tell us how socially responsible it is.”

Bank of America didn’t respond to an interview request from Rewire.News.

Private prisons regularly violate policy by putting people in solitary confinement because they run out of room, according to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General.  A 2015 investigation looked into allegations of sexual abuse at a private immigrant detention facility in Texas, one of many accusations of sexual misconduct in privately run prisons.

Once bipartisan in their campaign contributions, for-profit prison corporations today give around 90 percent of their congressional campaign contributions to Republican candidates. A small group of congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), continue to accept campaign funds from GEO Group and CoreCivic, but many Democrats running for Congress have returned or refused private prison campaign contributions as the industry has become politically toxic. GEO Group and CoreCivic each donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration fund.

Immigrant advocates have pointed out that the private prison industry, which thrived for decades before Trump won the White House, is a symptom of a system that puts profits over the well-being of people detained in the facilities.

“Private prison companies have flourished under many presidents since the 1980s, including President Obama, President Clinton, and President Bush,” Phillip Agnew, co-director of the Dream Defenders, told Rewire.News in August 2018 while organizing protests against GEO Group. “Donald Trump is a particularly polarizing figure, and a fool, so it makes it quite easy to tie this to him. But for years, each president has been a part of growing this machine and this system.”