Private Prison Industry Played A Heavy Hand in Arizona Immigration Law, NPR Reports

NPR reports that controversial Arizona immigration law S.B. 1070 was drafted and lobbied for in significant part by the private prison industry, through conservative organization the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together members of industry and politicians, including Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce. [Salt Lake City Weekly]  CCA, the country’s largest private prison company, participated in discussions of the idea behind the eventual bill from an early stage, and stood to benefit from future contracts to build or run immigration detention centers under the new law, which – if contested provisions are upheld at the end of an ongoing constitutional challenge – would allow local law enforcement to conduct warrantless arrests of individuals suspected of being undocumented aliens.  In addition, CCA and other private prison companies donated heavily to Arizona legislators who supported the bill and CCA reportedly has close ties to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s administration. [Salt Lake City Weekly]

CCA, which operates more than half the immigration detention centers in the country, has been criticized for its employment practices and conditions of detention, and has been on the receiving end of numerous civil rights complaints by prisoners and other litigation, including a class action suit filed in 2000 to enjoin CCA’s alleged practice of colluding with telephone companies to increase the cost to inmates to make phone calls, with financial gain going to CCA. [Tucscon Citizen; CCR; Mother Jones].

A constitutional challenge brought by the Federal government against enforcement of the Arizona law is pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments this week on Arizona’s appeal of the District Court’s injunction against several provisions of the law.  The Arizona Republic reported that the judges seemed inclined to rule in favor of Arizona on some provisions, but in the Federal government’s favor on others.

The growth of the private prison industry has come under intense scrutiny in several contexts, including immigration detention and the Iraq war.  In response to the Arizona story, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association warned on Election Day yesterday that voters “should be just as worried about the things they don’t see – the unknown forces influencing decisions at all levels of government.”

Relatedly, the Latin America News Dispatch reports that deportations of undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions are at a record high in the United States and have increased 70% under the Obama Administration, due in large part to the Secure Communities program, through which local law enforcement provides biometric data to federal immigration authorities to determine the immigration and criminal backgrounds of individuals arrested by local authorities, with a view to increasing deportation of removable aliens convicted of violent or drug-related offenses.  However, the program has been criticized as encouraging racial profiling, distracting local law enforcement from their primary duties, and accelerating deportations  – including of thousands of migrants arrested for petty offenses such as traffic violations who have no prior criminal history – without waiting for legislative overhaul of immigration law. [ACLU; NYT]  Last week, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Center for Constitutional Rights and Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law sought an injunction in federal court to require the federal immigration agency, ICE, to disclose information on how communities may opt-out of the Secure Communities program. [Florida Independent; CCRJanet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, has stated that opt-out is not available and all local law enforcement agencies must begin participating in the program by 2013.

For more information on immigration policy and immigrant detention in the United States, see the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers and Their Families, the ACLU, Amnesty International, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Migration Policy Institute, and the International Organization for Migration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.