On a flat and desolate stretch of Interstate 10 some 50 miles south of Phoenix, a sheriff's deputy pulls over a green Chevy Tahoe speeding westbound and carrying three young Hispanic men.
The man behind the wheel produces no driver's license or registration. The deputy notices $1,000 in cash stuffed in the doorframe -- payment, he presumes, for completed passage from Mexico. He radios the sheriff's immigration enforcement team, summoning agents from the U.S. Border Patrol. Soon, the three men are ushered into the back of a white van with a federal seal.
This routine traffic stop represents the front end of an increasingly lucrative commercial enterprise: the business of incarcerating immigrant detainees, the fastest-growing segment of the American prison population. The three men loaded into the van offer fresh profit opportunities for the nation's swiftly expanding private prison industry, which has in recent years captured the bulk of this commerce through federal contracts. By filling its cells with undocumented immigrants caught in the web of increased border security, the industry has seen its revenues swell at taxpayer expense.