By: Laura Carlsen
Director, Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy; columnist,
As the immigration reform debate heats up, an important argument has been surprisingly missing. By granting legal status to immigrants and ordering future flows, the government could save billions of dollars. A shift to focus border security on real crime, both local and cross-border, would increase public safety and render a huge dividend to cash-strapped public coffers.
This kind of common-sense immigration reform has the multibillion-dollar private prison industry shaking in its boots. Its lobbyists are actively targeting members of congressional budget and appropriations committees to not only maintain, but increase incarceration of migrants — with or without comprehensive immigration reform.
While a broad public consensus has formed around the need to legally integrate migrants into the communities where they live and work, private prison companies Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group, thrive off laws that criminalize migrants, including mandatory detention and the definition of immigration violations as felonies. They are using their money and clout to assure that even if immigration reform goes through, the practice of locking people up for immigration infractions will continue.
Their No. 1 goal: to assure that Operation Streamline — their goose of the golden eggs — survives, with more money than ever.
Operation Streamline began in 2005, and it imprisons men, women and children for immigration violations, sometimes up to 10 months or more, and it channels more than $1 billion a year in federal funds to private-run detention centers.
It would seem contradictory for a program that rounds up undocumented migrants to be funded alongside comprehensive immigration reform. Yet both President Obama’s plan and the plan put forward by the Gang of 8 senators call to increase Border Patrol enforcement programs.
Enlace, coordinator of the National Private Prison Detention Campaign, has compiled data on private prison industry money to pressure Congress for more enforcement business in any comprehensive immigration reform bill.
The Private Prison Lobby
First, a brief guide to the private prison lobby. Numbers are from their 2012 quarterly lobby disclosure reports filed with the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House. The Center for Responsive Politics has a useful site where much of this information is posted.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, lobbyist for CCA, received $220,000 for its services for CCA in 2012.
Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc., received $280,000 to lobby for CCA in 2012. McBee Strategic Consulting received $320,000 in 2012 from CCA. CCA in-house lobby registered $970,000 in lobbying for 2012.
Navigators Global lobbies for GEO. GEO paid Navigators Global $120,000 for lobbying in 2012. Lionel (Leo) Aguirre was also paid $120,000 for lobbying for GEO.
Among the gang of eight senators, all but Lindsay Graham and John McCain have received significant money from the private prison corporations. The transparency watchdog, Open Secrets, compiled the figures by adding contributions from members, employees, PACs or immediate family members of the organization.
* Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.): Chair of the Rules Committee, Member of Judiciary and Chair of Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Enforcement. In 2012, Schumer received at least $64,000 from lobbyists Akin Gump et al, and $2,500 from Mehlman Vogel. He also received $34,500 from FMR (Fidelity), which owns 5.09 percent of CCA and 8.67 percent of GEO.
* Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): Member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Foreign Relations, received $29,300 from the GEO Group. Wells Fargo (also heavily invested in private prisons) gave Rubio $16,150.
* Bob Menendez (D-N.J): Finance Committee, new chair of Foreign Relations, received more than $39,000 in documented money from private prison lobbyists, with $34,916 coming from Akin Gump, $6,300 from Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. and $1,000 from McBee Strategic Consulting.
* Michael Bennet (D-Colo.): Finance Committee, received at least $30,794 from
The prison lobby also targeted several key House members Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Budget committee and member of Appropriations, received $21,600 from Akin Gump; $74,700 from McBee Strategic Consulting.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who is on the House Budget and Judiciary committees, received money from: Akin, Gump et al ($19,600); and contributions from Mehlman Vogel associates totaling $2,500.
What these lobbyists want for their money is an immigration reform bill that tightens, rather than loosens the criminal net for undocumented workers and their families.
The inhumane and illogical step of pre-deportation detention was invented by the private prison industry. Last year, the Obama administration spent more money on immigration enforcement, including detention, than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined — a staggering $18 billion. The detention centers receive $166 per person, per day in government funds — an amount that would be a godsend to a homeless family or unemployed worker.
Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, director of Enlace, notes, “The private prison industry is swamping the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committees to try to buy them to keep Operation Streamline so they can incarcerate more immigrants in private prisons despite immigration reform.” There is nothing surprising about that, he adds, “That’s their business.”
The national movement made up of local organizations against private detention centers has a simple demand — stop funding private immigrant detention centers. They have blocked construction of new prisons and pressured investment funds and individuals to divest from private prison stock. They have also turned their sights on the politicians that feed federal money into the system.
Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a member of the divestment campaign, explains that her group is meeting with Florida Congressional representatives to counteract the influence of the private prison lobby.
“In the broadest sense, what we’re trying to do is to show the financial impact on policies and the conversation in the context of immigration reform,” she says.
Are members of Congress being bought off? Rodriguez replies, “I think that when people are being heavily lobbied and when there’s financial interests involved and when our representatives are benefiting from those financial interests directly through lobbying, it compromises their ability to do what’s right for taxpayers and immigrant families.”
There is a lot at stake for the private prison companies. CCA and GEO reported combined revenues of $3 billion dollars in 2011, with nearly half — $1.3 billion — coming directly from federal government, according to 2011 annual reports. They will fight hard for continued incarceration under immigration reform — whether it makes sense policy-wise or not.
The human rights issues involved in locking up migrants for profit, separating families and detaining individuals in poor and humiliating conditions rarely even make it into the debate. Instead, politicians are tempted to curry support among the prison industry and conservatives, with more talk of “enforcement” as the trading chip for citizenship and less talk of human rights.
Meanwhile, citizen groups are hoping that greater transparency and public awareness of the role of private prison corporations will lead to a more lasting and rights-based comprehensive immigration reform, one where for-profit immigrant detention centers become a relic of a crueler past.
Follow Laura Carlsen on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cipamericas
By GREG BISHOP – Published: February 19, 2013 – New York Times
In recent years, where stadium naming rights could be sold, universities and professional sports teams have sold them — to airlines and banks and companies that sell beer, soda, doughnuts, cars, telecommunications, razors and baseball bats. This led to memorable examples like Enron Field, the KFC Yum! Center and the University of Phoenix Stadium.
On Tuesday, that trend took another strange turn when Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, firmed a deal to rename its football building GEO Group Stadium. Perhaps that pushed stadium naming to its zenith, if only because the GEO Group is a private prison corporation.
For this partnership, there is no obvious precedent.
The university’s president described the deal as “wonderful” and the company as “well run” and by a notable alumnus. But it also left some unsettled, including those who study the business of sports and track the privatization of the prison industry. To those critics, this was a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash.
Posted on: 13/02/2013 by Laura Carlsen
As the immigration reform debate heats up, an important argument has been surprisingly missing. By granting legal status to immigrants and ordering future flows, the government would save billions of dollars. A shift to focus border security on real crime, both local and cross border, would increase public safety and render a huge dividend to cash-strapped public coffers.
This kind of common-sense immigration reform has the multibillion-dollar private prison industry shaking in its boots. Its lobbyists are actively targeting members of Congressional budget and appropriations committees to not only maintain, but increase incarceration of migrants—with or without comprehensive immigration reform.
by Seth Freed – Color Lines
Wednesday, February 6 2013, 9:47 AM EST
The House made its first formal foray into immigration reform yesterday at a lengthy Judiciary Committee hearing in which Republicans struck a familiar chord. Despite record-setting deportation levels in recent years, Republican members of the committee were in broad agreement that they want even more enforcement before they could sign onto the comprehensive reform ideas laid out by Senate negotiators and President Obama.
“There is not in my opinion very much enforcement going on at all in the interior of the country,” said Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.
The heightened enforcement that Goodlatte and others seek raises a thorny question for the immigration reform process: Will it address the dire concerns many have about the ways in which immigrants are detained while awaiting deportation?
Private Prisons Will Get Totally Slammed By Immigration Reform
By Paul Szoldra
February 2, 2013
As the Senate and the White House turn their focus to comprehensive immigration reform, little attention has been given to who would be negatively impacted by any move to fix the country’s broken immigration system and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Perhaps no one has a bigger interest in maintaining the status quo than private prisons, a billion dollar industry built largely on contracts with federal agencies, including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Over the past decade, revenues for the industry giants — Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group — have skyrocketed, thanks in large part to a federal program introduced under President George W. Bush in 2005 dubbed Operation Streamline, which brought federal criminal charges against people who cross the border illegally.
“[Prior to 2005,] typically when someone was apprehended at the border they would be deported or dealt with in the civil immigration system,” Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, told Business Insider. “What Streamline did was move those people into the criminal justice system and charged them with one of two crimes.”
By: Bob Libal
Bob Libal is the Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership
The debate over the proposed “comprehensive immigration reform” bill is intensifying, with a “gang of six” senators attempting to hash out a bill that would regularize the status of some undocumented immigrants but may also include increased funding for harsh border enforcement policies.
This debate overlooks the astounding fact that federal spending on immigration enforcement now surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined. One of the most costly of these programs is Operation Streamline, a little-known enforcement program that is part of broader trend funneling immigrants into the criminal justice system. These policies channel billions of dollars to private prison corporations and are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in prison. The “gang of six” are reportedly considering expanding funding of Operation Streamline.
Streamline, started in 2005 along a 210-mile section of the Texas-Mexico border around Del Rio, Texas, mandates that most immigrants apprehended crossing the border in designated areas are referred for criminal prosecution in the federal justice system.
Reintroducing the Private Prison Information Act: An Interview
by Mel Motel
Christopher Petrella and Alex Friedmann are leading a coalition of organizations urging U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act during the 113th Congress. I reached them both on the phone on a busy afternoon on January 9, 2013. Alex spoke from his office in Nashville, Tennessee while Christopher was on the road in Boston.
Christopher Petrella is a doctoral student in U.C. Berkeley’s Department of African American Studies; his dissertation focuses on the intersection of race, class and prison privatization. He also teaches classes at San Quentin State Prison.
Alex Friedmann is the managing editor of Prison Legal News, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and president of the Private Corrections Institute, which opposes prison privatization. He spent ten years behind bars, including six years at a facility in Tennessee operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
* * *
MEL MOTEL: So let’s talk about this bill, the Private Prison Information Act (PPIA). Why is this bill important? Who should care about this issue?
ALEX FRIEDMANN: The PPIA would apply to private prison contractors on the federal level – it would subject them to the same obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that apply to public corrections agencies. Currently, FOIA does not apply to privately-operated prisons. This is important as a transparency issue. It would put all federal facilities, both prisons and detention centers, public and private, on equal footing – it doesn’t matter where people are housed, the facilities should still be subject to FOIA. So beyond it being an issue for just prisoners or people that are directly connected to prisoners, it’s a public taxpayer issue.
Over the past decade, Wells Fargo Bank has advertised to Latinos through community outreach, Spanish-language advertising and programs that allow immigrants, without U.S. identification, to open bank accounts.
However, Wells Fargo has also invested in the GEO Group, the nation’s second largest private prison company, which operates private prisons and immigration detention centers, reports Univision and Salon.com.
Mary Moreno, the communications director for the National People’s Action Campaign, told Univision: “They’re trying to win over all these Latino customers, but at the same time they’re promoting prisons for immigrants. Profits should never be a motive for incarcerating people.”
In its defense, Wells Fargo doesn’t deny profiting from human warehousing, but tries to shift the spotlight to U.S. immigration policies.
Laura Fay, a spokesperson for Wells Fargo, said in a statement: “As a bank, we don’t set U.S. immigration policy and we don’t have anything to do with setting and enforcing of immigration policy. When it comes to private prisons, we don’t tell the federal government where to place people.”
While Wells Fargo did drop 36 percent of its holdings in GEO late last year, it still owns about 3 million shares, according to SEC filings.
The National Private Prison Divestment Campaign says that by reducing its holdings to less than 5% of GEO’s total stock, Wells Fargo no longer has to disclose some financial dealings with GEO.
GEO and the nation’s largest private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, depend on Wells Fargo financing as they continue to get government contracts to build and manage immigrant detention centers and other private prisons.
Wells Fargo was also one of the leading subprime mortgage lenders prior to the 2008 crash and was later given a $37 billion from the U.S. government in the TARP bailout.
Original Article can be found at: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/investment-prisons/wells-fargo-bank-courts-latino-customers-while-profiting-incarceration
By: Amanda Garces
On December 13th, 2012 the National Private Prison Divestment Campaign held its National Day of Action; community partners in nine states raised their voices to demand that elected public officials and financial institutions cut all ties to Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and GEO Group (GEO), America’s largest private prison corporations, which have profited from billions in taxpayer money.
In Philadelphia, Philadelphians Allied for a Responsible Economy (PhARE) exhibited their creativity by building a 5-foot tall prison cell called “Wells Fargo Winter Wonderland”. While a member was inside the cell, others were delivering informational flyers in the surrounding area. “It’s the holiday season,” says Amna Shaikh of PhARE, “and I’m not ok with celebrating while immigrants are being torn apart from their families by the private prison complex.” PhARE sought to highlight this disconnect by playing off the image of booths at Christmas Village, an outdoor shopping area that takes place each winter. “Rather than knit scarves or artisanal soap, this cell had one of the members on display, representing the inmates locked away for the sake of bank profit. The cell was taken to two Wells Fargo locations, Senator Toomey’s office, and the Christmas Village itself,” said Sonia, another PhARE member.
Senator Toomey’s office was targeted because he is a member of the Budget Committee, which is in charge of delegating money to private prisons. Very soon, the US Senate and House Budget Committees are set to entertain a budget request by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to add funding for more private prison beds; Senator Toomey has received political contributions from groups directly tied to the private prison industry.
PRESS RELEASE Human Rights Defense Center – For Immediate Release
December 19, 2012
Organizations Urge U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to Reintroduce Private Prison Information Act
Washington, DC – Yesterday, a joint letter signed by 33 criminal justice, civil rights and public interest organizations was submitted to the office of U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, urging her to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act.
The Private Prison Information Act (PPIA) would require for-profit prison companies that contract with the federal government to comply with public records requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the same extent as federal agencies. Currently, FOIA does not apply to private companies that contract with the federal government.
“We are deeply troubled by the secrecy with which the private corrections industry presently operates. Whereas the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act and state-level public records laws, private prison firms that contract with public agencies generally are not,” the joint letter submitted to Rep. Jackson Lee noted. “This lack of public transparency is indefensible in light of the nearly $8 billion in federal contracts that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO) – the nation’s two largest private prisons firms – have been awarded since 2007.”
After Ancelma’s husband was deported to Mexico, she found herself unable to close a bank account with Wells Fargo that was accruing overdraft fees. Though it has marketed itself as a bank of choice for the Latino community—accepting matricula cards that give undocumented immigrants access to banking services and even establishing “Wells Fargo Amigos” outreach teams—the bank refused to accept her husband’s authorization to close the account because it was written in Spanish.
The family soon learned this wasn’t the only way in which Wells Fargo is less “immigrant-friendly” than it first appears: The financial institution also invests heavily in the private prison industry that lobbies for and profits from harsher immigration enforcement and detention.
Ancelma’s story is one of several detailed in a series of reports urging Wells Fargo to break ties with private prison operators. In September, National People’s Action and the National Prison Divestment Campaign exposed that the bank was heavily invested in two major such companies with nearly $100 million of holdings in Geo Group and nearly $3 million in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The groups launched a public pressure campaign, branding the bank “Jails Fargo” and holding demonstrations outside its branches. In late October, they declared victory when Wells Fargo’s most recent SEC filings revealed that it had divested more than a third of its holdings in GEO Group.
Prison divestment organizers are encouraged by this move, but say it doesn’t yet go far enough. During a national day of action yesterday, activists in nine cities staged demonstrations to call for full divestment from the private prison industry. “Wells Fargo still provides a $700 million line of credit without which CCA could not build new prisons,” explains Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, executive director of Enlace, a national alliance of low-wage worker centers that coordinates the National Prison Divestment Campaign. “And beyond this, we’re asking all institutions, public and private, to cut ties with this industry—much as people of conscience divested from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.”
The National Prison Divestment Campaign, launched in spring 2011, brings together labor and faith organizations with immigrant rights groups alarmed by the explosion of private detention centers. In 2005, private prison operators gained a major foothold in the field of immigrant detention with the start of Operation Streamline, a policy mandating criminal, as opposed to civil, prosecution of undocumented immigrants crossing the border. As the result of this shift, and the redefinition of acts like “illegal border crossing” as immigration felonies, Latinos now constitute the majority of those sentenced for federal crimes. Nearly half of immigrants convicted of such crimes are held in private facilities.
The private prison industry has been involved in lobbying heavily for both new immigrant detention centers and tougher enforcement policies that will help fill them. In 2010, In These Times reporter Beau Hodai uncovered CCA’s pivotal role in shaping SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Thirty out of the 36 state legislators who co-sponsored the bill received campaign contributions from private prison companies. Though the Supreme Court struck down three out of the bill’s four provisions earlier this year, the “show me your papers” law that invites racial profiling by law enforcement remained intact, and has since taken effect in Arizona.
SB 1070 is far from the only instance where private prison companies have prevailed in securing such lucrative arrangements. During the past decade, the AP reported in August, the three major private prison companies have spent $45 million in lobbying and campaign contributions. This was money well-spent: Whereas ten years ago, private prison operators held two federal contracts worth about $760 million, the Federal Bureau of Prisons today pays these companies $5.1 billion through 13 different contracts.
The result is more than 23,000 immigrants detained for federal crimes, up from just over 3,000 a decade ago. Cervantes-Gautschi asserts that this drastic increase is clearly the result of profit-motivated policy shifts: “More than half of immigrants in the federal prison system are being held for things not even considered crimes six years ago,” he says.
Demonstrations held across the country yesterday targeted Wells Fargo, GEO headquarters, and the hedge fund Scopia, which according to Enlace holds over 9 million shares in GEO group. As New York demonstrators assembled outside Scopia’s offices, protesters carried life-sized black silhouettes labeled “missing” to symbolize the destruction of communities wrought by rising levels of detention.
“Each silhouette represents a missing member of our community,” explains Andalusia Soloff of the group Families for Freedom. “A person who, no matter the legal status, residency, or citizenship of the person has been removed and sent away, leaving their families and loved ones behind.”
Rebecca Burns, In These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.
By: Matthew Johnson
December 13th, 2012
The Fuerza! Coalition in Tucson, Arizona organized a week of action last week to urge former Democratic Senator Dennis DeConcini to resign from the Board of Directors of the nation’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America. The community coalition, composed of migrant justice, faith and student organizers, is working to raise public consciousness around the prison industry’s attacks on (im)migrant communities and hold accountable local leaders involved in the industry’s profiteering on incarceration and criminalization.
On Monday, students awoke to find the University of Arizona campus had been plastered with posters encouraging them to “Facebook Dennis.” The Facebook page, a satirical profile highlighting the Senator’s connections to CCA, quickly garnered hundreds of friends, many of whom wrote to DeConcini encouraging him to resign from CCA
On Tuesday, a flash mob on the U of A campus called attention to the campaign and informed students of the demand that DeConcini end his affiliation with CCA.
Anti-private prison protesters disrupt Utah Democratic Party election
Published on Dec 11, 2012 03:18PM
Orignially Published: The Salt Lake City Tribune / Political Cornflakes
On Saturday, as the Utah Democratic Party attempted to elect a vice chair, a protest broke out while one of the nominees — Jane Marquardt — tried three times to give her speech to delegates.
As seen on this video posted Tuesday, Salt Lake County Mayor-elect Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill try to nominate Marquardt for the position only to have protesters shout her down at the event.
At one point in the video, Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis tells one of the protesters shouting questions at Marquardt “You’re not welcome here” and the protesters are booed loudly by the Democrats inside the University of Utah’s School of Business.
After the disturbances, the room was cleared and only credentialed delegates were allowed back in to vote for vice chair. After two ballots, Marquardt lost to Josie Valdez.
Police were also called to the disturbance, but no charges were pressed during the raucous affair.
The protesters were part of a group that objected to Marquardt’s links to the private prison industry — in this case Management and Training Corporation, which is billed as the third largest company that operates private adult corrections facilities.
She is listed as a Vice Chair of MTC on the Utah Democrats website.
According to the MTC website, they operate private prisons in Arizona, California, Idaho, Ohio, New Mexico, Mississippi and Texas and houses 29,534 prisoners at their sites.
The seven-minute video was posted by SLCPrisonDivestment and helpfully includes captions to see what the protesters were yelling as the crowd tried to shout them down.
The election was to replace Jim Judd, the Utah Democratic Party vice chairman who died earlier this year.
— David Montero
Private Prison Companies Profit Off Laws that Define Immigrants as Criminals
How a nation uses its power to deny a person’s freedom has always been a critical measure of authoritarian rule. Massive incarceration based on race, ethnic origin or nationality, political beliefs, class, sexual orientation, age or other inherent characteristics is a form of tyranny.
Yet few people realize that this is happening on an enormous scale here, in the United States of America. Immigrants make up the latest market for a booming private prison industry.
The U.S. locks up the highest percentage of its population in the world—730 per 100,000, nearly two and a half million people. Although it has only 5% of the population, 25% of the world’s prison population is behind bars in the U.S.
It wasn’t always like this. This huge growth in the prison population has taken place just over the past two decades, when the imprisonment rate per capita surged by 45%.
It’s not that the U.S. experienced a major crime wave. The opposite is true. Crime and especially violent crimesteadily decreased over the same period. Two factors–the lock-up of mostly poor, black or Latino recreational drug users and of immigrants–now account for more than 80% of people behind bars in our country. Draconian drug prohibitionist policies and new laws that criminalize undocumented immigrants have flooded the nation’s prisons.
In other words, while actual behavior in society improved overall, the U.S. government broadened the criteria for depriving people of their most fundamental liberties. This wide net now traps more men, women and children than at any other time in history.
There’s a reason for that.
For-Profit Prisons and the Criminalization of Immigrants
In the mid-eighties, the U.S. government began to outsource jailing people. The first contract, in 1984, went to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), still the largest for-profit prison company in the country. Private prisons moved into communities left behind by the globalized economy. Heavily subsidized by taxpayer money even before receiving public contracts, they built thousands of cells throughout the country.
Then they had to fill those cells. How do you drum up business if you’re a for-profit prison industry? By making sure there’s a steady stream of prisoners. For every human being sent behind their bars, CCA or the second giant in the industry GEO Group, make approximately $122 a day, per head. CCA reported $1.7 billion in gross revenue last year, nearly half from government contracts.
That’s a powerful incentive to lock people up. In recent years, the most effective strategy for “market expansion” in the private prison industry has been to criminalize immigrants.
Latinos, the New Prison Majority
A series of recent laws have redefined undocumented immigration from an administrative infraction to a felony led to the creation of scores of migrant detention centers, built and run by the private prison industry. Operation Streamline, a policy begun in 2005, mandates that nearly all undocumented immigrants crossing the Southern border in certain areas be prosecuted through the federal criminal justice system.
A Grassroots Leadership report on Operation Streamline shows that federal districts along the Texas-Mexico border have spent more than $1.2 billion on the criminal detention and incarceration of border-crossers since the program began in 2005, with more than 135,000 migrants criminally prosecuted in these two border districts under two sections of the federal code that make unauthorized entry and re-entry a crime. The report found a 2,722% increase in prosecutions for entry, and a 267% increase in prosecutions for re-entry, compared to corresponding data for 2002.
As a result, Latinos now make up the majority of people sent to federal prison for felony crimes, with sentencing for newly defined immigration felonies like illegal border crossing or aiding in border crossing accounting for the increase. While Latinos were 50.3% of those sentenced in 2011, they make up only 16% of the overall population. ICE now sends400,000 immigrants a year to detention centers. Increased sentencing for non-violent immigration and drug offences has also driven the number of women in prison up by 800 percent.
The round-up of immigrants means that half of immigrant detainees spend time in prison compared to just a quarter a decade ago. This human bounty hunting shatters lives and families and costs taxpayers billions of dollars, much of it paid to the private prison industry.
Lobbying for Lock-up
It’s not surprising that for-profit prison companies have lobbied hard in Congress to maintain their cash cows—the drug war and the criminalization of immigrants. The CCA 2010 Annual Report clearly states the need for criminalization to continue by warning its investors:
“The demand for our facilities could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”(p.19)
The report notes that three federal governmental agencies accounted for 43% of total revenues in fiscal year 2010 ($717.8 million)—the Bureau of Prisons (15%), Immigration and Customs Enforcement-ICE (12%) and the US Marshalls Service (16%). It concludes, “We are dependent upon the governmental agencies with which we have contracts to provide inmates for our managed facilities.”
An AP story found that the private prison companies spent more than $45 million in lobbying and campaigns in the last decade. According to a Justice Policy Institute report, CCA spent an average of $900,000 a year on federal lobbying over the past decade. That figure doesn’t count state lobbying, where private prisons participate actively, or campaign contributions.
When Arizona passed SB1070 to increase police power to detain anyone suspected of not having immigration papers, 30 of the bill’s 36 legislative co-sponsors were found to have received significant campaign contributions from private prison companies.
A People’s Movement Against Private Prisons
Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, Director of Enlace, notes, “Of immigrants in the federal prison system, nearly half are in for things not even considered crimes six years ago.” He states that only 5% of immigrants behind bars are there for what would normally be considered a crime.
He adds, “People who are in for re-entry aren’t criminals—these are people coming back to see their children, coming back to visit a sick relative. It’s creating a great deal of human suffering and causing huge problems in our communities and schools. Our families are being broken up by this ridiculous policy.”
Enlace, an organization that works for the rights of low-wage workers, coordinates the National Prison Divestment Campaign. Using a “follow-the-money” strategy for understanding and confronting the influence of the private prison industry, it built a coalition of more than 130 national, state and local organizations “to convince shareholders (individuals, banks, hedge funds, etc.) to divest their funds from the prison industry so that we can make an impact on the prison business and reduce the power of CCA and GEO to lobby for laws that imprison our communities.”
The coalition has already scored some big victories, including cancellation of a for-profit detention center in South Florida, divestment by the hedge fund Pershing Square and by the United Methodist Church, and the divestment of a third of its GEO holdings by Wells Fargo following a campaign against WF Banking on Immigrant Detention. Resident organizations have stopped detention center projects in communities from Georgia to Illinois.
Their message has been simple: “Stop funding incarceration for profit.” The coalition is gearing up for another National Day of Action on Dec. 13. This time the focus will be on members of Congress sitting on the budget committees. Constituents are calling on their representatives to discontinue life support to the for-profit prison industry and direct scarce public funds their communities’ basic needs and services.
Laura Carlsen is the Director of the CIP Americas Program at http://www.cipamericas.org
NOTE: This article, written by Laura Carlsen, was originally posted with an incorrect byline. We regret the error, which has now been corrected.