CCA, for its part, has said it anticipates continued strong demand from the government, regardless of whether a reform bill is passed. A subsequent article by Wessler quoted CCA President and CEO Damon Hininger telling investors last week that while the profile of ICE detainees may change over time, “I think their general belief is there’s always going to be a demand for beds.”

But the murkiness of reform’s impact on the industry is one of the features that makes this such a compelling—and challenging—story. In the coming weeks and months, reporters will be tracking the flurry of competing reform proposals coming from lawmakers, and the ways that those proposals reflect the priorities of competing interest groups. As the story of immigration reform gets told, let’s not forget about an industry that has more than a few dollars at stake.

Jose Robledo contributed reporting for this story.

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from this author and the rest of the United States Project team.

If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of 10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.

Sasha Chavkin covers political money and influence for CJR's United States Project, our politics and policy desk. He has written for ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity, and The New York World. Follow him on Twitter @sashachavkin.