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Private Prison Profiteering and Anti-Immigrant Legislation: A Broken System

January 12, 2012

“This isn’t a question of whether or not we will detain people. We will detain people, and we will detain them on a grand scale,” – John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

In 2009, Amnesty International published a report on the “grand scale” detainment of nearly 300,000 men, women and children — these numbers have risen since then. Most of the detainees have never committed a crime. And they include “asylum seekers, torture survivors, victims of human trafficking, longtime lawful permanent residents, and the parents of US citizen children.”

From the 2009 Amnesty International report:

While ICE reported an average detention stay of 37 days in 2007, Amnesty International found that immigrants and asylum seekers may be detained for months or even years […] For example, according to a 2003 study, asylum seekers who were eventually granted asylum spent an average of 10 months in detention with the longest reported period being 3.5 years. Amnesty International has documented several cases, detailed in this report, in which individuals have been detained for four years. Individuals who have been ordered deported may languish in detention indefinitely if their home country is unwilling to accept their return or does not have diplomatic relations with the United States.

A new study from Applied Research Center [pdf download]: Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System — has estimated that there are at least 5,100 children torn from their parents and forced to live in foster care because of detainment or deportation.

Amnesty International also reported on the human rights violations of the detainment policies.

The ability to access the outside world is an essential safeguard against arbitrary detention. However, Amnesty International documented significant barriers immigrants face in accessing assistance and support while in detention. Problems included lack of access to legal counsel and consulates; lack of access to law libraries along with inadequate access to telephones; and frequent and sudden transfers of detainees to facilities located far away from courts, advocates, and family.

Amnesty International also documented pervasive problems with conditions of detention, such as comingling of immigration detainees with individuals convicted of criminal offenses; inappropriate and excessive use of restraints; inadequate access to healthcare, including mental health services; and inadequate access to exercise.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nearly 200 allegations of sexual abuse of detainees in detention facilities have been reported in 2007 alone. Shockingly, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has proposed a rule that explicitly excludes immigration detention facilities from coverage under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

As reported by Amnesty International, ACLU, NPR, and Social Policy – the private prison industry has been a significant lobbying force in Congress to implement and even draft anti-immigration legislation such as Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (the law that requires police officers to ask people for their papers during law enforcement stops based only on an undefined “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the country unlawfully).

In fact, the detention and profiteering of immigrant bodies is a worldwide phenomena.

Recently, the Obama Administration initiated ambitious new immigration policies that pushed ICE officials to focus on immigrants convicted of crimes. It introduced protocol that would speed up deportations of high-risk offenders while stopping deportations of immigrants with clean records and strong ties to the country.

However, this initiative has met significant push-back from ICE.

But in a new sign of the deep dissension over immigration, the union representing some 7,000 deportation officers of the agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, has so far not allowed its members to participate in the training. Without the formal assent of the union, the administration’s strategy could be significantly slowed for months in labor negotiations.

Chris Crane, the president of the union, the National ICE Council, has fiercely criticized the strategy, saying it amounts to orders from ICE officials for agents not to enforce the law.

But administration officials have pointed out (as has many conservative politicians), it would be impossible to deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who live in the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the policy was based on existing statutes and was intended to make good use of strained resources. With each deportation costing at least $23,000, she said, immigration agencies have money for 400,000 removals each year, a goal that the Obama administration has met in each of the past three years.

Immigration debates around the country tend to stubbornly frame discussions on a racist and reactionary scale of axis — one that polices real and constructed boundaries of inequality. Less often is it acknowledged that immigrants are not only the benefactors, but they are core citizens and builders of this nation.

The fact that immigrant labor, resources, culture and bodies are routinely exploited for the greater good of the American dream can no longer be tolerated.

Update: Activists in Santa Rose protest against Wells Fargo’s role in private industry profiteering.

On Friday, a coalition of immigrant rights and Occupy activists temporarily shut down two branches of Wells Fargo Bank in Santa Rosa and distributed a flyer charging that Wells Fargo profits from the private prison business now booming on increased immigrant detention. They also said that the bank received $43 billion in taxpayer-funded federal bailouts and then continued to foreclose on hardworking, taxpaying families rather than modify loans.

Santa Rosa is the largest city and the county seat of Sonoma County.
Specifically, the flyer said that Wells Fargo is an underwriter, major investor, trustee, financial advisor and more to the GEO Group, the private prison corporation formerly known as Wackenhut, and that Wells made contributions to politicians who sponsored and voted for Georgia’s HB 87, a copycat of Arizona’s SB 1070, the harshest anti-illegal immigration measure in recent U.S. history.

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