Libal said that expanding shelters would require a “paradigm shift” in the federal government. “If some of the $2 billion that goes to detention went to shelters, then they could be scaled,” he said. “They could do a lot with even a fraction of that money.”
But residential shelters have a deep-pocketed competitor in the alternatives-to-detention game: the private prison industry.
In 2014, BI secured a five-year contract to continue running ISAP, which BI expects will generate around $250 million in revenue.
Both the detention system and its alternatives are “captured by private interests,” said Libal.
And while government funding could convert shelters into a widespread alternative to detention, some shelter operators are wary that increased government involvement could conflict with their missions.
Such a model keeps costs low but may pose a challenge for expansion.
Casa Marianella has similar roots in religious activism, but it doesn’t object to government funding. It receives a substantial part of its budget from the city of Austin. That funding has helped Casa expand from one house to seven houses, with dedicated housing for women with children.
Though Ghulam is from a Muslim family, he is not religious. Still, he worries that he could be a target. Trump’s election seems to have set off a rash of Islamophobic hate crimes, and a week into his presidency, he signed an executive action that halts entry from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Ghulam also worried that Trump could somehow find a way to deport him. The president’s sweeping promise of a new era of mass deportations has millions of immigrants fearing for their futures. But Ghulam, at least, has significant protection from whatever is to come.
In 2013, he became a legal permanent resident, and he will qualify for citizenship in 2018.
Today, Ghulam lives in a North Austin apartment with a friend. His first jobs in the United States were, as planned, in convenience stores. Then, inspired by the memory of a night in detention when he heard a semi passing on the highway outside, he decided to invest nearly all of his savings into truck-driving school.
Now he drives for a Michigan-based trucking company, traveling the country for weeks and months at a time.
“I’m very free,” he told me, describing his job. “I see all the time different mountains, agriculture, industries, people passing in their cars, small towns and big cities. … I know the country now; I know the mountains, the deserts, everything.”