The Business of Immigration

These days, it is becoming more and more common to see the privatization of tasks that used to belong solely to the government.   Private security contractors have already been utilized in Iraq, and now the newest venture companies are undertaking is immigration control.


Immigration issues are usually considered a state function, yet is becoming increasingly common to see matters being handled by private companies.  Some companies have specifically made efforts to increase the transparency in their business by requiring performance reports and outside supervisors, however, the fact remains that they are often not held accountable for their actions the way the government would be.


Many companies fear that too much transparency could hurt them financially, as the private security market is quite lucrative.  Some even go as far as to require their staff to sign confidentiality agreements, forbidding them to speak publically about anything they witness at work or about any company practices.


One of the world’s largest security companies, G4S, employs more than 650,000 employees worldwide.  Their main tasks involve immigration control.  They run detention centers in Britain, screen passengers in European airports, and in America, they run a fleet of buses for deporting immigrants back to Mexico.  Only last month, they signed a contract with the UK Border Agency for $337 million to process asylum seekers.


What’s shocking about this is that G4S’s previous contract with the UK government was terminated, due to the death of a man as he was being deported.  3 private guards were escorting him on the flight home.  Multiple other passengers on the plane reported that the guards held him down with his head between his knees even after he complained that he couldn’t breath.  Before the plane could even take off, he lost consciousness and died.


The 3 guards who had custody of the man when he died, were immediately arrested.  After numerous accusations against senior management concerning poor training and improper restraint techniques, a lawsuit against G4S as a company is only just being considered.  Many are wondering whether the UK Border Agency should also be held responsible for their decision to outsource deportations.


Today, government outsourcing has created an industry that encompasses nearly every aspect of migration management in countries around the world. This shift comes at a price though; eliminating government accountability and forcing people to be subjected to the control of private corporations.


Should governments be allowed to contract out work like this?  Should they be held accountable if something goes wrong?


  1. The privatization of historically governmental responsibilities raises many ethical considerations. On the one hand, if a private entity can perform a “public” job in a more efficient and less-costly manner, privatization may make a whole lot of sense given the strapped resources many governments face. However, as discussed in the post, there are certain responsibilities that must remain transparent and for which the actors must be accountable if the democratic process is going to continue successfully. Like most things in life, the answer to whether or not certain, historically governmental responsibilities should be privatized is: it depends. Nevertheless, given the very high potentially for corruption and given the civil liberty concerns, I believe immigration control should remain the responsibility of government and should not be out-sourced to private players.

  2. Immigration control has been a hot topic in the United States. The as we wait to hear back from the Supreme Court on the outcome of States’ rights to enforce their own immigration policies, it makes sense that talk of immigration outsourcing arises. One of the main arguments States have is that the United States Government does not have the resources to control and maintain immigration. So do we privatize the task to companies instead? What is the better solution? Allowing States to monitor their own borders, possibly allowing them to do deportation? Or does the government give the task to a company like G4S. If the Government or States are in control of immigration there is more accountability to create fair policies. If a private corporation takes over this task the Government could lose touch with the real issues going on in immigration and it could slow a much needed reform.

  3. Privatization of governmental tasks endangers the role of the government as a protector of its people. Certain tasks can be privatized I’m sure, but the companies seeking to profit out of handling these tasks should be faced with risks equivalent to governments. Namely, the risks associated with being held to governmental level accountability. The companies that invest in these areas cannot be excluded from governmental responsibility since they receive the financial gains from the privatization of these tasks. The government may lack the resources needed to fund their immigration efforts, but the need to finance immigration control cannot come at the expense of the appropriate level of accountability.

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