With Immigration Reform Looming, Private Prisons Lobby to Keep Migrants Behind Bars

Huff Post Politics

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
Akin Gump.

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

Private Prisons Currently Exempt from Freedom of Information Act

Christopher Petrella

Nation of Change / OP-ED

Published: Tuesday 25 September 2012
 It seems that every few days I read a new press release or“study” commissioned by the private prison industry lauding its supposedly unmatched performance on measures of efficiency and safety relative to the public sector.  Despite the industry’s zeal for public approval, it routinely refuses to disclose the very information necessary to support its arguments.

Whereas public departments of corrections on the state and federal levels are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), private prison firms contracting with public agencies are not. This level of concealment is indefensible in light of the $7.9 billion in federal contracts that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO)—the two largest publicly-traded, private prison firms—have been awarded since 2007. If companies like CCA and GEO would like to continue to rely on taxpayer largess, then they should be required to adhere to the same disclosure laws as their public counterparts. Continue reading

Wells Fargo annual meeting drawing protesters

By Rick Rothacker

SAN FRANCISCO | Tue Apr 24, 2012 1:42pm EDT

(Reuters) – Activist groups say protesters plan to disrupt Wells Fargo & Co’s (WFC.N) annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday to vent their anger over foreclosures, executive compensation, corporate taxes and other issues.

Demonstrators plan to march to the site of the meeting near the bank’s headquarters in the financial district from a nearby park. Police were already a visible presence in the streets around the meeting site on Tuesday morning. The shareholders meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. PST (20:00 GMT)

“Banks are big and greedy,” said Julia Cheng, one of the protesters. “They only care about themselves.”

Demonstrators started gathering at the park on Tuesday morning, but it was not clear whether the event would draw as many protesters as organizers have said. There were more than 200 protesters carrying placards and supplies such as food and water. The peaceful gathering included Occupy Wall Street protesters from San Francisco and Oakland.

Looking to build on the energy of the Occupy movement, activist groups are targeting corporate stock holder meetings this spring to draw attention to economic disparity in the United States and to promote an assortment of other causes.

A group called 99% Power – a reference to those not among the top 1 percent of earners – has said it plans actions at 36 shareholder meetings, starting with Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo has emerged as one of the healthier U.S. banks from the financial crisis and expanded across the United States after buying North Carolina-based Wachovia Corp in 2008.

The bank is the largest U.S. mortgage originator and servicer, making it a target for protesters who say lenders have treated struggling borrowers poorly. Wells was one of five big lenders to agree this year to a $25 billion national mortgage settlement over foreclosure abuses.

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez said the bank works hard to keep homeowners in their homes and that fewer than 2 percent of its owner-occupied homes have gone into foreclosure over the past year.

At the shareholder meeting, stockholders will get a chance to ratify or reject the bank’s executive compensation plan and vote on a proposal to split the chairman and CEO roles held by John Stumpf. Last week, shareholders delivered a rebuke to Citigroup Inc’s (C.N) management when they gave a surprising vote of no confidence to the bank’s executive compensation plan.

(Reporting By Rick Rothacker in San Francisco; editing by Andre Grenon)

Should there be privatized prisons?

Should there be privatized prisons?

by Christopher Everle | Helium | March 7, 2012

For much of human history, various forms of punishment have been used in response to offenses against established law. Although the use of incarcerating an individual has been used throughout time, its use as a punishment is a modern idea. The United States, more than any other nation relies on the use of prison incarceration as a form of punishment. The explosion in prison populations in the U.S. has created the need for larger structures to lock away offenders. It seems inevitable that the need for an alternative method to government-owned and run institutions was likely to evolve. Continue reading

Join the National Day of Action January 24th #Jan24DIVEST

Enlace, in partnership with community groups and unions across the US, is calling on all public and private institutions to divest their holdings in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, America’s largest for profit prison corporations which have profited from billions in taxpayer money.  Together with Wall Street investors these companies finance anti immigrant laws like AZ Copycat Laws and lobby for anti immigrant federal policies like SCOMM.

Prison investors include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, General Electric, Fidelity, Wellington, and Vanguard.

We are coordinating a National Day of Action on January 24th. Actions are being planned across the US.  To host an action and get involved contact Daniel at 213-284-3802 or Daniel@enlaceintl.org

Continue reading

Oklahoma Criminal Reform Symposium

SENATOR Constance N. Johnson, LEGISLATORS EXPERT PRESENTERS on & Sentencing Reform

Oklahoma Criminal Reform Symposium

18 -19 JANUARY from 9AM – NOON/1:30 – 4PM

SENATE CHAMBER 4TH FLOOR, OKLAHOMA STATE CAPITOL

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION AGENDA:

  • Effective State Policy Advocacy and Strategy for Session 2012
  • Educating the Public on the Real Motivators of Mass Incarceration — Policy Capture by Special Interests (Private Prison Industrial Complex)
  • Mass Incarceration in the Context of Complex
  • Social Problems in Oklahoma: How to Stop the Merry-Go-Round (Re-Entry/Re-Integration)
  • The War on Drugs: Perspectives from Former Police, DEA Agents, & Prosecutors

FOR MORE INFORMATION (405) 521-5531 or (405) 301-3277 or email fields@advocacycouncil.org Enter “CJR RSVP” in the Subject Line.

Private Prisons Profit

Private Prisons Profit 
BY LAMONT LILLY | January 11, 2012 | The Durham News
In Americathere are approximately 130,000 inmates housed in privately owned prisons. It’s a foul stench within a justice system that leads the world in number of persons incarcerated within a state, federal or private institution.Our latest tally of 2 million equates to 25 percent of the globe’s incarcerated population. This massive waste of human life is commonly known as the Prison Industrial Complex, an oppressive current now being led from the top down by the highly profitable Prison Privatization Movement. Its roots can be traced back to the 1980s of Ronald Reagan, his “War on Drugs” and tougher sentencing platform. Due to policy makers and their concerns of prison overcrowding at the time, in 1984 the Corrections Corporation of America was contracted to oversee its first facility in Hamilton County, Tenn.. Such transition marked a new federal precedent of complete private control of a correctional institute. Continue reading