Banking on Detention: Demonstrators Call on Wells Fargo to Divest from Private Prisons

IN THESE TIMES

FRIDAY DEC 14, 2012 12:10 PM

BY REBECCA BURNS

New York demonstrators call on Scopia to divest from private prisons.   (Photo courtesy of Andalusia K. Soloff)

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 BurnsIn 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.

EXPOSED: Wells Fargo Banks on Immigrant Detention

EXPOSED: Wells Fargo Banks on Immigrant Detention

For the last year National People’s Action (NPA), as part of the National Prison Divestment Campaign has been organizing to get Wells Fargo to divest from financing private prisons. While Wells is investing in aggressive customer outreach to the Latino community, it is also providing critical financing to private prison corporations that lobby to prevent reform of a broken immigration system. They can’t have it both ways.

NPA and Public Accountability Initiative just released the first of 2 reports, Wells Fargo: Banking on Immigrant Detention, that details Wells Fargo’s direct financing of private prisons known for their inhumane conditions and for trying to block immigration reform. Key finding include:
Prison industry giants Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group doubled annual revenue in the last 10 years to a combined $3.3 billion in 2011, in major part due to the increase in immigrant detention centers.
Wells Fargo provides critical financing to Corrections Corporation of America, including a $785 million line of credit.
Wells controls $95.5 million in GEO Group stock through its mutual funds, and serves as trustee for $300 million of the company’s corporate debt.

You can read the report here:

English

Español

Please take action and sign the petition: http://www.npa-us.org/jailsfargo

SOMALI AND LATINO COMMUNITIES TO MOVE THEIR MONEY FROM WELLS FARGO, LARGE RALLY PLANNED OUTSIDE OF WELLS FARGO CENTER

***MEDIA ADVISORY***
Event FRIDAY, May 11 at 2:45 p.m.

CONTACT:
Eric Fought, 612-223-4744, efought@mnfaireconomy.org or

Karen Louise Boothe, 651-203-0401, klboothe@seiumn.org

SOMALI AND LATINO COMMUNITIES TO MOVE THEIR MONEY FROM WELLS FARGO, LARGE RALLY PLANNED OUTSIDE OF WELLS FARGO CENTER

Families continue to suffer as deadline is reached for banks to find a solution to crises

MINNEAPOLIS– On Friday afternoon, hundreds of members of Minnesota’s Somali and Latino communities will gather at Wells Fargo Center in downtown Minneapolis to close their accounts in response to the bank’s ongoing unwillingness to address pressing concerns of both communities. Continue reading

Disgruntled Wells Fargo shareholders rally in Portland

Portland Business Journal by Matthew Kish , Business Journal staff writer

Date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 10:00am PDT – Last Modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 2:40pm PDT

Wells Fargo shareholders want to force the bank to hold another annual meeting.Wells Fargo shareholders want to force the bank to hold another annual meeting.
Business Journal staff writer -Portland Business Journal

This story has been updated from its original version.

A group of Wells Fargo shareholders wants the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission  to force the bank to hold another annual meeting.

The San Francisco-based bank’s annual meeting last month was disrupted by protesters who were eventually removed from the meeting. Twenty-four people were arrested, according to Bloomberg. Continue reading

GEO Group Protest- Please Share widely

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)

Protesters crash Wells Fargo shareholder meeting

Protesters crash Wells Fargo shareholder meeting

By TERRY COLLINS, Associated Press – April 24

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators from across the country descended on San Francisco Tuesday in an attempt to crash banking giant Wells Fargo’s annual shareholders meeting.

Several dozen people representing community groups had bought company stock and were allowed inside. Police said 24 people were arrested, including 15 for disrupting the meeting while inside the standing-room-only gathering of nearly 300 people.

Demonstrators outside the Merchant’s Exchange Building in the city’s bustling financial district waved signs and blocked the street while chanting, “We are the 99 percent! Let us in!”

Dozens of officers were stationed around the building in advance of the 1 p.m. meeting. Authorities said the demonstration saw only minor skirmishes between protesters and police.

Shareholder Erik Crew, 30, of Cincinnati, said he was arrested at the meeting shortly after one protester shouted that Wells Fargo should pay its fair share of corporate taxes. A group of women then said the bank should be ashamed of investing in private prisons and pleaded for a moratorium on home foreclosures, he said.

While the demonstration itself was a small win, Crew said, the real victory will come when the corporation actually divests from the aforementioned dealings.

“This is a public statement that raises awareness to hold Wells Fargo more accountable,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot more intervention from other entities who will threaten to pull their money out of Wells Fargo in order to claim victory.”

Shareholder William Brittendall, executive director of the Peace and Social Justice Center in Wichita, Kan., said Wells Fargo executives could not ignore them.

“The 99 percent is tired of always getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop,” Brittendall said. “They haven’t felt an impact like this before.”

Wells Fargo spokesman Ruben Pulido said the company respects the protesters’ right to gather, but it will work to keep its customers, employees and shareholders safe.

Among the two dozen demonstrators arrested, six people were taken into custody for trespassing, a misdemeanor, San Francisco police Sgt. Mike Andraychak said. Sheriff’s deputies arrested another three for resisting arrest, also a misdemeanor.

The demonstration saw some minor skirmishes, but Andraychak said organizers were cooperative.

“We believe they followed through with their stated objective, which was to have a peaceful protest,” he said.

Many stockholders arrived early and were asked to show certificates or letters of proxy before being corralled past gates erected in front of the doors.

Shareholder Mark Richmond, a member of the Portland-based group “We Are Oregon,” said he hoped he could voice his concerns specifically about predatory lending and home foreclosures.

“Oh, there’s going to be some action, all right. We’re very dissatisfied with Wells Fargo,” said Richmond, who works as a janitor at the Portland International Airport.

Angus Maguire, a spokesman for the Oregon group, said hundreds of shareholders representing groups from throughout California and as far away as New York made their presence felt whether they made it inside the meeting or not.

“The people were heard, loud and clear,” Maguire said.

During the protest, hundreds of union members, activists and clergy members chanted and blocked the street.

Ross Rhodes, 53, of San Francisco, clutched his proxy letter with the hopes he could plead with Wells Fargo to help save his family’s home of nearly 50 years from foreclosure.

The home care provider said he’s back on his feet after going through some hard times. But he said he wants to renegotiate with the banker so he can get a modified loan and a mortgage he can afford.

“I don’t want to lose my home. I need them to come back to the table and work with me so I can make good,” Rhodes said. “All I’m asking for is a fair shake. That’s all we’re asking for.”

Pulido, the Wells Fargo spokesman, defended the bank’s foreclosure policies, saying less than 2 percent of the loans Wells Fargo issued on owner-occupied properties had been foreclosed on.

“We work to keep people in their homes where there is affordability,” Pulido said. “Unfortunately some people have seen their incomes drastically reduced due to unemployment or underemployment.”