The private prison lobby, which gains profit off the misery of minorities and the poor, has emerged as one of the main influencers of tougher enforcement of immigration laws. And behind the prison lobby are minorities doing their bidding.
According to the ACLU, private prisons are responsible for approximately 6 percent of state prisoners, and 16 percent of federal prisoners. Today, almost half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are held in private prisons and the private prison industry has grown over 1,664 percent from 1990 to 2009.
Operation Streamline was implemented along the Mexican Border in 2007 to address drug trafficking, but it ended up burdening caseloads with non-violent migrant workers and those seeking to reunite with their families.
Behind the prison lobby encouraging these kinds of programs are groups like The GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) who have contributed millions to ensure that politicians support their efforts to increase the prison population.
And those dollars are supporting Latino-based organizations as well. The GEO Group, CCA and Aramark sponsored a key conference by Hispanic Leadership Network meant to reach out to Latinos in 2011. HLN is advised by Latino Republicans such as Carlos Gutierrez and Representative Raul Labrador, who are at the forefront of the GOP conversation on immigration reform.
CCA is also represented in Arizona by a well-respected Latino-owned political consulting firm, Molera-Alvarez. Most depressing is that the son of legendary civil rights activist and Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, sits on the Board of Directors for CCA.
The private prison business is worth a lot of money, with The GEO Group and CCA alone worth over 3 billion dollars. Collaborating with the government to expand the prison population is a sure way to line the pockets of its investors, and minorities are lining up as partners in a business that disproportionately targets Latinos and African-Americans.
Private prison companies like CCA infamously conspired with Republicans in Arizona through their participation in the conservative group, American Legislative Exchange Council’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force, to pass the anti-immigrant bill, SB1070, and they have driven efforts to expand government reliance on their services and facilities ever since the 1980’s. “Arizona has one of the highest concentrations of ALEC legislators of any state in the United States,” reports People for the American Way. Senator John McCain of Arizona is among the top beneficiaries of CCA and former Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini is on the board at CCA.
Recently, it was revealed in emails released by US Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) that they have been targeting immigrants by considering tactics such as trolling driver’s license records on foreign-born applicants for inconsistencies and using that information to establish checkpoints where they are more likely to capture immigrant drivers who are out of status. All this while being told by President Obama that he is prioritizing removals for dangerous criminals.
David Venturella was the Assistant Director of Field Operations for ICE who authored those emails, is now an Executive Vice President of The GEO Group.
Private prisons are driven by numbers. The ACLU reports that in a 2010 report filed with the Security and Exchange Commission, CCA stated, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by . . . leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices . . .” In other words, more leniency is bad for business.
We are handing over government functions to corporations who have no responsibility to American citizens, but to their board members and investors. Corporations have wrongly convinced the country that government enforcement meant to protect capital is the same as government enforcement as capital. This is bad enough, but that minorities are partners in this injustice is a reminder that minority leadership alone will not solve our problems.
Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.