Prison Lobbyists Behind Anti-Immigrant Laws
- View SourcePrison Lobbyists Behind Anti-Immigrant Laws
May 27th, 2011
It seems that the private prison industry has an interest in seeing anti-immigrant laws spread across the country. They are lobbying for them.
Prison Lobbyists Help Spread Anti-Immigrant Laws to U.S. South
By Matthew Cardinale
ATLANTA, Georgia, May 26, 2011 (IPS) - Earlier this month, Georgia became the third state to enact some of the most anti-immigrant legislation in recent U.S. history, when Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, signed the bill, HB 87.
Among other things, the bill allows law enforcement officials to ask suspicious individuals to prove that they are U.S. citizens. In practice, critics say, "suspicious looking" is another way of saying "Hispanic", raising concerns that the law encourages racial profiling.
The law is modeled on Arizona's anti-immigrant law, passed last summer. Utah became the second state earlier this year. Both state's laws are currently held up in the courts, where federal judicial circuits in the Western U.S. have not been favourable on the grounds that the laws are state or local interference with federal immigration policy.
The laws have already led to statewide boycotts in Georgia and are expected to bring legal challenges as well. In part, national lobbyists targeted Georgia because they wanted to set up a court battle in a more conservative eastern U.S. federal judicial circuit.
Meanwhile, supporters of the bill are celebrating, including the right-wing Republican base that supported the bill, as well as the for-profit prison corporations which stand to profit from the massive influx of suspected undocumented immigrants through the private prison system.
"Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), we know they have lobbyists here [at the legislature]," said Larry Pellegrini of Georgia Rural Urban Summit. CCA is one of the largest for-profit prison corporations in the U.S.
"They [CCA] will benefit by the legislation. They have a corporate stake in it around the country," Pellegrini told IPS.
Pellegrini also noted that the lobbying effort to pass anti- immigration laws in Georgia was part of a national effort.
One national lobbying group that was instrumental in bringing together business interests and lawmakers was the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
It was an ALEC task force, which included a representative from a private prison - along with lawmakers from Arizona and other states - who helped draft Arizona's immigration bill, which became a template for Georgia's law as well.
According to CCA reports obtained by National Public Radio, the corporation believes that immigration detention is its next big growth market.
CCA's earnings were up 15 percent in the first quarter compared to the same period a year ago.
CCA reported earnings of 40.3 million dollars, or 37 cents per share, on revenue of 428 million dollars in first quarter of 2011, according to the Nashville Business Journal newspaper. CCA's revenue for 2009 was 1.7 billion dollars.
The federal government pays over 60 dollars per detainee per day to house men at CCA's Stewart Detention Center, the largest immigration detention centre in the U.S., located in Lumpkin, Georgia.
CCA's top management in Tennessee contributed the largest block of out-of-state campaign contributions received by Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer. Brewer employs two former CCA lobbyists as aides who assisted with signing Arizona's SB 1070 into law.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, CCA spent 770,000 dollars lobbying at the federal level in 2009 and has spent as much as 3.4 million since 2005.
Georgia State Sen. Donald Balfour, a key Republican supporter of Georgia's HB 87, in 2006, 2007, and 2008 received 2,000 dollars each year in donations from CCA; in 2009 he received 1,000; and in 2010, 750.
Governor Deal received from CCA 5,000 dollars in 2010 for the General Election. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has received at least 7,000 dollars from CCA since 2006.
Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has received at least 3,500 dollars from CCA since 2008.
When recently asked about the Georgia bill, U.S. President Barack Obama said, "It is a mistake for states to try to do this piecemeal. We can't have 50 different immigration laws around the country. Arizona tried this and a federal court already struck them down."
Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia are "seriously considering a legal challenge," Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project Director at the Georgia ACLU told IPS.
"We believe the law is unconstitutional," she said. "It encourages racial profiling and interferes with federal authority to enforce federal immigration laws."
Meanwhile, key Republican legislators remain undaunted.
"I applaud Governor Deal's signing of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, which includes numerous common-sense reforms aimed at addressing the social and economic consequences in Georgia resulting from the federal government's inability to secure our nation's borders," State Rep. Matt Ramsey said in a statement.
"HB 87 is a comprehensive and necessary effort to enforce the rule of law and protect the taxpayers of Georgia from being forced to subsidize the presence of nearly 500,000 illegal aliens in our state. Current economic conditions have made it painfully obvious that the state of Georgia literally cannot afford to continue this broken system," Ramsey said.
But not all Republicans were thrilled about the new laws, particularly Republican legislators representing rural Georgia districts. Many Georgia farmers are believed to rely upon low-cost immigrant labour to perform tasks like picking onions and plucking chickens.
Time will tell how the new immigration laws - even the very passage of them, whether the courts uphold them or not - will impact immigrants and their families living in Georgia - that is, whether they will stay here or decide to take their chances in another U.S. state.
Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law
by Laura Sullivan
October 28, 2010
Glenn Nichols, city manager of Benson, Ariz., says two men came to the city last year "talking about building a facility to hold women and children that were illegals."
text size A A A October 28, 2010
Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.
Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.
"The gentleman that's the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger," Nichols said. "He's a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman."
What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.
"They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community," Nichols said, "the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate."
But Nichols wasn't buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years decades even with illegal immigrants?
"They talked like they didn't have any doubt they could fill it," Nichols said.
That's because prison companies like this one had a plan a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona's immigration law.
Behind-The-Scenes Effort To Draft, Pass The Law
The law is being challenged in the courts. But if it's upheld, it requires police to lock up anyone they stop who cannot show proof they entered the country legally.
Read Part 2 Of This Report
Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny
Among hundreds of bills drafted by an alliance of business, lawmakers: Arizona's immigration law.
When it was passed in April, it ignited a fire storm. Protesters chanted about racial profiling. Businesses threatened to boycott the state.
Supporters were equally passionate, calling it a bold positive step to curb illegal immigration.
But while the debate raged, few people were aware of how the law came about.
NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry.
The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.
Enlarge Joshua Lott/Getty Images
Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, pictured here at Tea Party rally on Oct. 22, was instrumental in drafting the state's immigration law. He also sits on a American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) task force, a group that helped shape the law.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, pictured here at Tea Party rally on Oct. 22, was instrumental in drafting the state's immigration law. He also sits on a American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) task force, a group that helped shape the law.
Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce says the bill was his idea. He says it's not about prisons. It's about what's best for the country.
"Enough is enough," Pearce said in his office, sitting under a banner reading "Let Freedom Reign." "People need to focus on the cost of not enforcing our laws and securing our border. It is the Trojan horse destroying our country and a republic cannot survive as a lawless nation."
But instead of taking his idea to the Arizona statehouse floor, Pearce first took it to a hotel conference room.
It was last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Inside, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC.
It's a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America the largest private prison company in the country.
It was there that Pearce's idea took shape.
"I did a presentation," Pearce said. "I went through the facts. I went through the impacts and they said, `Yeah.'"
Drafting The Bill
The 50 or so people in the room included officials of the Corrections Corporation of America, according to two sources who were there.
Pearce and the Corrections Corporation of America have been coming to these meetings for years. Both have seats on one of several of ALEC's boards.
And this bill was an important one for the company. According to Corrections Corporation of America reports reviewed by NPR, executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market. Last year, they wrote that they expect to bring in "a significant portion of our revenues" from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that detains illegal immigrants.
In the conference room, the group decided they would turn the immigration idea into a model bill. They discussed and debated language. Then, they voted on it.
"There were no `no' votes," Pearce said. "I never had one person speak up in objection to this model legislation."
Four months later, that model legislation became, almost word for word, Arizona's immigration law.
They even named it. They called it the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act."
"ALEC is the conservative, free-market orientated, limited-government group," said Michael Hough, who was staff director of the meeting.
Hough works for ALEC, but he's also running for state delegate in Maryland, and if elected says he plans to support a similar bill to Arizona's law.
Asked if the private companies usually get to write model bills for the legislators, Hough said, "Yeah, that's the way it's set up. It's a public-private partnership. We believe both sides, businesses and lawmakers should be at the same table, together."
Nothing about this is illegal. Pearce's immigration plan became a prospective bill and Pearce took it home to Arizona.
Pearce said he is not concerned that it could appear private prison companies have an opportunity to lobby for legislation at the ALEC meetings.
"I don't go there to meet with them," he said. "I go there to meet with other legislators."
Pearce may go there to meet with other legislators, but 200 private companies pay tens of thousands of dollars to meet with legislators like him.
As soon as Pearce's bill hit the Arizona statehouse floor in January, there were signs of ALEC's influence. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped on, a number almost unheard of in the capitol. According to records obtained by NPR, two-thirds of them either went to that December meeting or are ALEC members.
That same week, the Corrections Corporation of America hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the capitol.
The prison company declined requests for an interview. In a statement, a spokesman said the Corrections Corporation of America, "unequivocally has not at any time lobbied nor have we had any outside consultants lobby on immigration law."
At the state Capitol, campaign donations started to appear.
Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.
By April, the bill was on Gov. Jan Brewer's desk.
Brewer has her own connections to private prison companies. State lobbying records show two of her top advisers her spokesman Paul Senseman and her campaign manager Chuck Coughlin are former lobbyists for private prison companies. Brewer signed the bill with the name of the legislation Pearce, the Corrections Corporation of America and the others in the Hyatt conference room came up with in four days.
Brewer and her spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
In May, The Geo Group had a conference call with investors. When asked about the bill, company executives made light of it, asking, "Did they have some legislation on immigration?"
After company officials laughed, the company's president, Wayne Calabrese, cut in.
"This is Wayne," he said. "I can only believe the opportunities at the federal level are going to continue apace as a result of what's happening. Those people coming across the border and getting caught are going to have to be detained and that for me, at least I think, there's going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do."
Opportunities that prison companies helped create.
Produced by NPR's Anne Hawke.
(There is an interesting chart showing who the players are in this article, worth a look.-Ed.)
From Citizen Orange
ICE Raids - Detention Centers Not About Immigration, All About Money!
By dee on February 3, 2009 6:22 PM |
What did Deep Throat Say? "Follow the Money!" In 2007/2008, ICE stepped up their raids across the country. Ask yourself WHY!!
Let's start with three of the largest, most recent ICE raids. In New Bedford, MA., 300+ Seamstress Workers making backpacks were swept away to Texas Detention Centers. In Postville, IA, 500+ Meatpackers were swept off to Texas Detention Centers. In Laurel, MS, 600+ technical workers were swept off to a GEO Detention Center in Jena, LA. As I previously reported, GEO's Jena facility was newly opened in late 2007, projecting they would fill to capacity in 2008. The 2008 Laurel raid filled them to capacity.
How do these privately run prisons profit? They are paid per diem (per head/per day). Maximum profit is made if the centers are filled to capacity.
GEO Group has a long history of prisoner abuse. Records show these prisons have been cited for feces on walls, on sheets, on beds, vermin - rats, roaches, prisoners dying in custody due to no healthcare, prisoners sexually abused. The lawsuits detail the abuses. Contracts have been rescinded across the country due to the abuse. Last weekend, the second prison riot occurred within 2 months in the RCDC in Pecos Texas due to charges of inhumane treatment and death.
Ask yourself why GEO Group now focuses their lobbying to receive Detention Center contracts? Does anyone listen to the complaints of those in Detention Centers? Does anyone care about their abuse? Is the media reporting the conditions or the reason for rioting in the RCDC in Pecos, TX? Does anyone question why the GEO Detention Centers continue to be filled to capacity with detainees? The detainees should NOT be incarcerated for long periods of time, yet they are, many for months and years on end. Our nation is spending billions of dollars to detain hundreds of thousands of uncharged detainees. In some locations, entire families are incarcerated. Why? Per diem $$ paid per head/per day.
The GEO Group spends millions of dollars lobbying and filling the pockets of Republican Texas State Congressmen and National Politicians, including their friends, George W. Bush and Tom Delay.
This article shows the following examples:
First, Ray Allen, the former Texas representative from Grand Prarie who chaired the House Committee on Corrections, and his former chief of staff, Scott Gilmore, are two of the biggest private prison lobbyists in the state. Gilmore and Allen took heat several years ago for working as lobbyists even while Allen was still a state representative. Allen was a major privatization advocate while a state representative and both he and Gilmore lobbied, while in office, for the National Correctional Industries Association - a group that advocates for prison labor and includes private prison corporations amongst its members.
Second, the troubled GEO Group spent the most on private prison lobbying in 2007 and actually upped its lobbying expenditures after scandals forced state hearings into private prison oversight. According to the report:
With its starring role in the scandal, Geo Group increased its Texas lobby spending tenfold, accounting for more than half of the lobby money that the industry spent in 2007.
It is imperative that Janet Napolitano and her teams investigate the GEO Group, the abuse in their centers and report back why GEO continues to abuse detainees or any prisoners. Ask why detainees are held for such long periods of time. Determine if it is the best use of ICE Funds to incarcerate seamstresses, meatpackers and technical workers for such long periods of time. Ask why these raids and suppression sweeps are not used for felonious criminals, gangs and stopping guns from going back into Mexico.
From Institute for Southern Studies
Detained and Dying: Immigrant deaths in detention raise questions about oversight of private prisons
By Desiree Evans on June 16, 2009 7:42 AM
A coalition of immigrant and civil rights groups held a vigil in front of the Atlanta headquarters of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency last week to mark the three-month anniversary of Roberto Martinez Medina's death in immigrant detention in southwest Georgia.
Before his death, Medina, a 39-year-old Mexican national, was held on immigration violations at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., a federal ICE facility. For three months the immediate cause of Medina's death remained unclear. The autopsy results were finally released last Thursday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, noting that Medina died of myocarditis, an inflammatory heart disease.
Medina's death in March marked the latest in the mounting number of immigrant deaths in ICE detention centers. For the past year, stories of inadequate health care for immigrant detainees and a slew of questionable deaths in immigration custody have been surfacing. Even though Medina died of apparent natural causes, immigrant advocates maintain that these immigrant deaths, as well as the stories detainees continue to tell about abuse and neglect, raise questions about the adequacy of medical practices in the jails and private prisons under contract to hold immigrant detainees, as well as underscore the lack of overall accountability in U.S. immigrant detention.
Rights advocates have pointed out that many of the reported immigrant deaths could have been prevented through timely and effective access to medical care. But due to the absence of enforceable standards and an independent oversight mechanism, ICE and the corporations that contract with it for the most part escape accountability, advocates say.
Amnesty International released a report last March criticizing the system of immigrant detention in the United States. The report found that tens of thousands of immigrants have been held without access to due process and many have been left to "languish" in deplorable conditions. In the last few months groups such Human Rights Watch and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center have also released reports detailing startling levels of immigrant abuse in detention centers and a real lack of adequate medical care.
Profiting From Immigrant Detention
ICE oversees a network of federal centers, county jails and privately-run, for-profit prisons that detain and process undocumented immigrants; more than 30,000 immigrants are incarcerated in the U.S. on any given day. Many of these facilities are located in the South and Southwest.
Facing South has reported on the large-scale immigration raids that have swept across the country in the last couple of years. The heightened anti-immigration actions have left federal authorities struggling to cope with rapidly rising numbers of detainees. Arrests have overwhelmed detention systems and local jails.
In turn, over the past couple of years, immigrant detention has become the nation's fastest-growing form of incarceration. The private prison industry in the United States is making a fortune on the exponential increase in the number of immigrants detainees, and despite the economic downturn, the industry is currently experiencing the largest business demand in its history.
Many of these private prison corporations are looking to open more detention facilities for immigrants. But human rights advocates point out that many of these for-profit facilities being built to house the overflow are problem-riddled and lacking in oversight. In fact, privately-run detention centers are continually plagued by scandal, lawsuits and controversy surrounding prisoner maltreatment.
For years, the Florida-based GEO Group, a private corporation that owns and operates correction facilities and is contracted to manage five of ICE facilities, has been at the center of scandal in its private prisons and detention centers in places such as Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Texas. Charged with squalid conditions, prison abuse, ill treatment of prisoners and even prisoner deaths, the corporation has faced several lawsuits by prisoner family members who say the facility did not provide adequate medical care or proper supervision for inmates.
The Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison company, operates six ICE facilities, and has a long, documented history of abuses in its prisons. The CCA runs the same detention center in Lumpkin, Ga., where Medina was held. In 2007, nearly 1,000 immigrant prisoners at the 1,500-bed facility in Lumpkin went on a hunger strike protesting conditions including lack of medical care.
Georgia Detention Watch, an Atlanta-based coalition of immigrant rights advocates, released a report in April on detention conditions at the CCA-run Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin. Calling the conditions at the CCA-run facility "grossly inadequate," the report found that detainees were denied food and medicine as punishment, there were too few working toilets, detainees were placed in solitary confinement without a disciplinary hearing, the facility lacked necessary medical care, and it served undercooked and expired food.
Rights groups continue to demand accountability and transparency from ICE in regards to its CCA-run facilities. From October 2003 through Feb. 7, 2009, 18 people died in immigration detention custody in facilities operated by CCA alone, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Private prison corporations such as the CCA and the GEO Group are seeing an exponential growth in business and stock prices, even though stories of their inadequate facilities continue to stream into the public. In 2008, the GEO Group reported nearly $60 million in profits, and the CCA posted profits of more than $150 million. And the profits continue to soar.
As the Business of Detention pointed out in 2008:
[CCA] has partnered with the federal government to detain close to 1 million undocumented people in the past 5 years until they are deported. In the process, Corrections Corporation of America has made record profits. Critics suggest the CCA cuts corners on its detention contracts in order to increase its revenue at expense of humane conditions. Thanks to political connections and lobby spending, it dominates the industry of immigrant detention. CCA now has close to 10,000 new beds under development in anticipation of continued demand.
CCA plans to open a new facility in Gainesville, Ga. similar to its Lumpkin facility. Rights advocates say that the prospect of yet another CCA-run immigrant detention facility should trouble lawmakers.
Immigrant advocates are also demanding greater transparency and swift and public investigations for deaths in immigration detention. Groups are calling on Congress and the Obama administration to create enforceable standards binding ICE and corporations such as CCA to humane standards of care for the detainees and to ensure an effective and independent oversight mechanism.