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Private Prisons’ Ties to Anti-Illegal Immigration Bills

NPR has a story today on the ties between Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, and private prisons that stand to benefit from more illegal immigrants being

Elisa Mueller
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Oct 28, 2010

NPR has a story today on the ties between Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, and private prisons that stand to benefit from more illegal immigrants being locked up. The revelations aren’t new: In These Times had a great piece in June uncovering how state Sen. Russell Pearce (R) wrote SB 1070 at a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council where private prison lobbyists were also present. Still, it’s worth mentioning again: Corrections Corporation of America, which runs many private detention centers on a contract from the Department of Homeland Security, has numerous ties to the conference where the bill was drafted and to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who signed the bill into law on April 23.

Pearce said he came up with the idea for SB 1070 himself, and CCA denies lobbying for harsh immigration bills. But ALEC has a well-documented history of spreading legislation that industry groups want to see passed at the state level. And the timing is questionable: Pearce brought up the idea for the bill at the ALEC conference, where it was discussed and written in four days. CCA officials were likely in the room, NPR reports, although Pearce said he goes to ALEC conferences to meet with other legislators. When the bill was introduced in Arizona senate, most of its 36 co-sponsors were at the conference or members of ALEC.

The prison company has acknowledged it sees immigration detention as its next big market. Both NPR and In These Times describe a somewhat odd exchange between CCA executives on the bill. Here is NPR’s description:

In May, The Geo Group had a conference call with investors. When asked about the bill, company executives made light of it, asking, “Did they have some legislation on immigration?”

After company officials laughed, the company’s president, Wayne Calabrese, cut in.

“This is Wayne,” he said. “I can only believe the opportunities at the federal level are going to continue apace as a result of what’s happening. Those people coming across the border and getting caught are going to have to be detained and that for me, at least I think, there’s going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do.”

The same private prison officials could have a hand in future anti-illegal immigration legislation, along with the 25 other states that could pass copycat bills to Arizona’s SB 1070. Lawmakers who plan to draft anti-birthright citizenship bills aimed at denying citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants plan to hammer out the details at an ALEC conference in December.

CCA seems to be a clear beneficiary of these laws, which would lead to a larger number of undocumented immigrants being detained before deportation. (Ending birthright citizenship, in particular, would likely increase the number of illegal immigrants because children who would otherwise be citizens would instead be undocumented.) But immigrant rights groups argue CCA runs its facilities in a way that is unsafe for detainees, who are supposed to be treated humanely as part of the civil deportation process. Many of the allegations of prisoner abuse, including sexual abuse of female detainees on their way to deportation, have happened at CCA facilities, where CCA officials were accused of breaking rules by allowing female detainees to be alone with male guards.

Elisa Mueller | Elisa Mueller was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to a mother who taught reading and a father who taught film. As a result, she spent an excessive amount of her childhood reading books and watching movies. She went to the University of Kansas for college, where she earned bachelor's degrees in English and journalism. She moved to New York City and worked for Entertainment Weekly magazine for ten years, visiting film sets all over the world.


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