Thursday, 18 November 2010

Private prison industry behind Arizona’s new immigration law

Reposted from Tiresias Speaks, the following post underlines just one worrying aspect of the road down which privatising - rather than dismantling - the functions of state leads.

Arizona seized the international spotlight last April when Governor Jan Brewer signed immigration Bill 1070 into law. The new law requires police officers to arrest any person they stop who cannot immediately prove that they entered the country legally.

Immigrant communities, their sympathizers, and civil liberties advocates have violently condemned the bill as a blatant endorsement of racial profiling that does nothing to address the root causes of illegal immigration.

Anti-immigration advocates, meanwhile, have lauded the bill as being a positive step towards halting the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States and securing the nation’s border.

The full implementation of the law has been temporarily halted by court order as U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton waits to hear further arguments regarding the bill. In all of the considerable controversy surrounding this bill, however, one question seems to have fallen by the wayside: just whose idea was this bill anyways?

Like anything else in politics, all you have to do is follow the money. Ever since Governor Brewer signed the bill into law much of the country has been left holding their breath as they wait to see what will come of it- but perhaps no one is more blue in the face than those who stand to make additional millions from the law.

As it turns out, the bill was written in December of 2010 by representatives of the private prison industry at a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Washington, DC.

ALEC is composed of several representatives of powerful business interests including ExxonMobil, tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., the NRA, and most importantly in this case, the Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the United States. 

The private prison industry has been successfully trying to keep people locked up for profit for years. The industry has done everything from lobbying for stricter drug laws too arguing for the expanded privatization of state and federal penitentiaries. In fact, thanks in large part to their success, the United States now boasts the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

The Corrections Corporation of America and other private prison companies have long known that locking up illegal immigrants is one of the most promising sectors for continued growth in the private prison industry. The implementation of the new Arizona law will likely send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison- generating hundred of millions of dollars worth of additional profits for the private prison industry- and possibly pave the way for other states to pass similar measures. 

Arizona State Senator and ALEC member Russell Pearce maintains that the bill was his own idea, but we now know that the bill was written almost word for word with the help of the Corrections Corporation of America in Washington, DC’s Grand Hyatt Hotel. In the privacy of a hotel conference room, members of ALEC designed the bill, debated the language, and finally voted unanimously to approve the model piece of legislation.

Of the unusual 36 State senators who rushed to co-sponsor the bill back in Arizona, at least 2/3 of them are reported to have attended the ALEC meeting in December, and thirty of them received donations over the following six months from prison lobbyists or prison companies. 

Once the bill got onto governor Jan Brewer’s desk it was a sure thing- she is a strong supporter of private prisons and both her spokesman Paul Senseman and her campaign manager Chuck Coughlin are former lobbyists for private prison companies. 

It is important to realize that none of this is illegal or even especially unusual. Legislation is regularly drafted with the help of organizations like ALEC and then passed into law by representatives who are receiving money from the same business interests who wrote the bill. 

It is well-known that keeping black and brown people in chains has been big business in the United States for hundreds of years. It appears that Arizona’s new immigration law is simply the latest niche for the exorbitantly wealthy few who benefit the most from keeping minorities in cages.