County Processing Center
You for Your Business
new anti-immigration law stands to benefit the private prison
industry—which may have helped write the legislation
By Beau Hodai
my brothers and my sisters, I’ll proudly take a stand. When
liberty’s in jeopardy, I’ll always do what’s right. I’m
out here on the frontline, sleep in peace tonight. American
soldier, I’m an American soldier . . .
goes the ringtone of Republican Arizona State Sen. Russell
Pearce’s phone—as performed by Toby “We put a boot up your
ass, it’s the American way” Keith. Seconds into any conversation
with Pearce about illegal immigration, you’ll discover that
the song fits. In his mind, Pearce is an “American soldier”
fighting a war that he believes threatens the very fiber
of the nation.
been 133 nations identified crossing that border. Not just
Mexicans, not just Hondurans, not just El Salvadorians,
but 133 nations. Many of those are nations of interest,
which means that they either harbor, aid and abet, or are
somehow connected to terrorist activities,” says Pearce.
“And yet they continue to cross that border. We’ve got prayer
rugs that have been found down there, other things that
have been found down there—and yet they [the federal government]
continue to do nothing.”
So Pearce decided to do something. He became the proud and
primary sponsor of S.B. 1070—the Support Our Law Enforcement
and Safe Neighborhoods Act—recently signed into law by Arizona
Gov. Jan Brewer.
And some backers of S.B. 1070 are wrapping themselves in
the flag all the way to the bank.
An investigation shows that the bill’s promoters are as
equally dedicated to border politics as they are to promoting
the fortunes of private prison companies, like Corrections
Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group, which stand
to reap substantial profits as more undocumented residents
end up in jail.
In early December 2009—a full month and a half before S.B.
1070 was introduced to the Arizona Senate and nearly two
months before its counterpart was first read in the House—Pearce
formally submitted a version of his drafted legislation
to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an
organization to which he and 35 other Arizona legislators
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, ALEC bills itself as
“the nation’s largest bipartisan, individual membership
association of state legislators” and as a public-private
legislative partnership. As such, ALEC claims as members
more than 2,000 state lawmakers (one-third of the nation’s
total legislators) and more than 200 corporations and special-interest
The organization’s current corporate roster includes the
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, the nation’s largest
private jailer), the Geo Group (the nation’s second largest
private jailer), Sodexho Marriott (the nation’s leading
food-services provider to private correctional institutions),
the Koch Foundation, Exxon Mobil, Blue Cross and Blue Shield,
Boeing, Wal-Mart and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation,
to name just a few.
ALEC is composed of 10 task forces, each responsible for
developing “model legislation,” which ALEC member lawmakers
then sponsor and introduce in their home states. This occurs
despite the fact that federal tax law explicitly forbids
501(c)(3) organizations such as ALEC from taking part in
the formation of legislation. ALEC promotional material
boasts that each year member legislators typically carry
1,000 pieces of legislation back to their home states, 20
percent of which is passed into law.
As a testament to ALEC’s efficacy as a pipeline for corporate-backed
legislation, since the passage of the federal health-care
overhaul package in late March, legislators in at least
38 states have introduced the ALEC-crafted Freedom of Choice
Health Care Act (Health Care Act). Ironically, given the
fetish Pearce and other ALEC lawmakers have for adherence
to federal immigration laws, the Health Care Act is marketed
as an assertion of the states’ sovereignty under the Tenth
Amendment. Interestingly, ALEC claims that the Health Care
Act is based on an Arizona proposition that was defeated
on the ballot in 2008.
Pearce is an executive member of ALEC’s Public Safety and
Elections Task Force. The private-sector executive members
of this task force include CCA, the American Bail Coalition
(which is com- prised of nine of the nation’s top bail-bond-insurer/bounty-hunter
associations), the National Beer Wholesalers Association,
the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers Association, the National
Pawn Brokers Association and Prison Fellowship Ministries.
The private-sector chair of the Public Safety Task Force
is the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Although ALEC’s legislative members far outnumber corporate
members, a look at the group’s finances illustrates not
only the price corporations are willing to pay for a seat
at the table with state lawmakers, but where the group’s
loyalties likely lie. According to ALEC’s most recent tax
records, in 2008 the group reported a total of $6.9 million
in revenue—$93,387 of which was brought in through legislative
membership dues (a two-year membership is available to lawmakers
for $100, or four years at $200). On the other hand, ALEC
received $5.6 million (all but $1.3 million of the group’s
annual budget) in contributions from its corporate and special-interest
According to Michael Hough, director of ALEC’s Public Safety
and Elections Task Force, every bill introduced by any member
legislator or corporation must go through a 30-day review
process of approval by both public and private sector ALEC
members before it can become model legislation. This process,
Hough says, was set in motion for Pearce’s immigration bill
when he submitted it to the Public Safety and Elections
Task Force during the group’s December 2009 meeting in Washington,
Pearce denies that he submitted the bill to ALEC for any
purpose other than to gain its endorsement and strengthen
the legislation’s ability to weather legal challenges both
in Arizona and other states.
However, ALEC does not issue endorsements, says Hough, but
rather works with lawmakers in the formation and dissemination
of model legislation. And, according to Hough, the model
legislation that emerged from Pearce’s ALEC task force in
early January is virtually identical to the bill introduced
by Pearce in the Arizona Legislature later that month.
All Arizona is seeking to do, says Pearce, is enforce current
federal immigration laws—laws that liberal lawmakers and
“loudmouth anarchist” groups in so-called “sanctuary cites”
illegal to have sanctuary policies in this state under federal
law, but we have them all over this country. I mean, L.A.
and San Francisco being—if you will—the poster cities of
what’s wrong with America,” says Pearce.
To remedy this situation, the ALEC model legislation (“No
Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act”) and Pearce’s
Arizona bill both feature anti-sanctuary cities provisions
that prohibit any municipal, county or state policy from
hampering the ability of any government agency to comply
with federal immigration law. The ALEC model legislation
and the Arizona law also both include sanctions aimed at
those who employ illegal immigrants and tougher penalties
for human smugglers.
The Arizona law has drawn the most fire for its so-called
“Breathing While Brown” provision that allows law enforcement
officers to arrest anyone whom they have probable cause
to believe may have committed a crime—such as being in Arizona
without proper documentation. When the law goes into effect
on July 29, any person in Arizona found to be without legal
papers will be charged with the new state crime of “willful
failure to complete or carry an alien registration document,”
under Arizona’s criminal trespass statutes.
new criminal offences carry a maximum fine of $100, up to
20 days in jail (30 days for a second offense) and restitution
of jail costs. By creating these state-level offenses—and
by forbidding localities from ignoring them—Pearce’s Arizona
law and ALEC’s model legislation effectively convert every
state, county and municipal police officer into an enforcer
of federal immigration law.
According to Hough, the main difference between the final
version of the Support Our Law Enforcement Act as signed
into law in Arizona and the Sanctuary Cities Act that ALEC
is promoting across the country is that the ALEC legislation
carries more stringent penalties under the criminal trespass
section than the Arizona law.
Under the Sanctuary Cities Act’s criminal trespassing provision,
first offences are still Class 1 misdemeanors, but there
is no 20- to 30-day cap on incarceration as the final version
of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 provides. Additionally, the Arizona
legislation classifies subsequent offenses as misdemeanors
and the Sanctuary Cities Act classifies repeat offenses
as felonies, which carry lengthier terms of incarceration.
Questions of justice aside, the immigration dragnet created
by S.B. 1070 in Arizona and the Sanctuary Cities Act will
greatly increase the numbers of undocumented residents who
are arrested and jailed. And that bodes well for the bottom
lines of private detention corporations such as CCA and
Geo Group. (Neither Geo Group nor CCA responded to repeated
requests for comment.)
Over the past decade, the private-prison industry has increasingly
shifted its attention to the burgeoning fields of undocumented
and criminal alien detention. From January 2008 to April
2010, CCA spent $4.4 million lobbying the Department of
Homeland Security, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement
(ICE), the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee, the
Office of Budget Management, the Bureau of Prisons, and
both houses of Congress. Of the 43 lobbying disclosure reports
CCA filed during this period, only five do not expressly
state intent to monitor or influence immigration reform
policy or gain Homeland Security or ICE appropriations.
Looking at the numbers, it is easy to see why the private-prison
industry is eager to expand into immigrant detentions. According
to ICE Public Affairs Officer Gillian Brigham, in fiscal
year 2009, ICE detained 383,524 individuals, with an average
daily prisoner population of 32,098 spread across the nation’s
270 immigrant detention centers.
Due to the rising numbers of immigrant detentions in recent
years, coupled with the rising tide of economic shortfalls
at both the state and federal level (ICE reported a $140
million budget deficit for fiscal year 2010), ICE has farmed
out the operations of many of these facilities to either
county operators under intergovernment service agreements
(IGSAs) or to private-prison contractors who operate the
facilities on a per diem, per inmate basis.
Currently, seven of these facilities are “contract detention
facilities” (CDFs) owned and operated by either CCA or Geo
Group. However, according to Brigham, ICE uses several types
of facilities for immigrant detention, including county
or state-owned jails and prisons contracted out by ICE under
IGSAs, and “service processing centers,” which are facilities
operated by both federal and private detention staff.
An example of one of these IGSA enterprises would be the
nation’s largest immigrant detention facility, the Willacy
County Processing Center in Raymondville, Texas. This jail,
though owned by the county, is operated by Management and
Training Corporation, a Utah-based private-prison manager.
Consisting of several massive domelike structures, the Willacy
“Tent City” can warehouse more than 3,000 immigrant detainees
awaiting deportation at any given time.
However, according to Brigham, ICE does not keep tabs on
who is operating these detention centers at the state or
county level through IGSAs, so it is difficult to assess
how many of these facilities are run by private firms. In
addition, ICE is not the only federal agency to contract
out immigrant detention beds to these corporations. The
detention of undocumented aliens, who are convicted of a
crime and must serve a sentence before deportation, is also
farmed out to private-prison contractors through the Bureau
of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Understandably, Geo Group and CCA are optimistic about their
industry’s future. They plan to expand operations or fill
thousands of detention bed “inventory surpluses” around
the country (including in Arizona) in response to what these
corporations refer to as “organic growth opportunities.”
The drivers of this growth include the increase of immigrant
detentions and the inability of the federal and state governments
to meet detention needs due to budgetary constraints.
In May, during the Geo Group’s first-quarter investor conference
call, a prospective investor asked Geo CEO George Zoley
what impact Arizona’s immigration law might have on business.
Zoley responded with levity: “What? They have some new legislation?
I never heard about it. I think I’m increasingly convinced
of their need for 5,000 new beds.”
Wayne Calabrese, Geo Group’s chief operating officer, offered
a more straightforward appraisal. “I can only believe that
the opportunities at the federal level are going to continue
at pace as a result of what’s happening,” Calabrese said.
“I think people understand there is still a relatively low
threshold of tolerance for people coming across the border
and those laws not being enforced. And that to me at least
suggests there are going to be enhanced opportunities for
what we do.”
article first appeared in In These Times. Source: Featurewell.com.