With Immigration Reform Looming, Private Prisons Lobby to Keep Migrants Behind Bars

Huff Post Politics

By: Laura Carlsen
Director, Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy; columnist,

As the immigration reform debate heats up, an important argument has been surprisingly missing. By granting legal status to immigrants and ordering future flows, the government could save billions of dollars. A shift to focus border security on real crime, both local and cross-border, would increase public safety and render a huge dividend to cash-strapped public coffers.

This kind of common-sense immigration reform has the multibillion-dollar private prison industry shaking in its boots. Its lobbyists are actively targeting members of congressional budget and appropriations committees to not only maintain, but increase incarceration of migrants — with or without comprehensive immigration reform.

While a broad public consensus has formed around the need to legally integrate migrants into the communities where they live and work, private prison companies Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group, thrive off laws that criminalize migrants, including mandatory detention and the definition of immigration violations as felonies. They are using their money and clout to assure that even if immigration reform goes through, the practice of locking people up for immigration infractions will continue.

Their No. 1 goal: to assure that Operation Streamline — their goose of the golden eggs — survives, with more money than ever.

Operation Streamline began in 2005, and it imprisons men, women and children for immigration violations, sometimes up to 10 months or more, and it channels more than $1 billion a year in federal funds to private-run detention centers.

It would seem contradictory for a program that rounds up undocumented migrants to be funded alongside comprehensive immigration reform. Yet both President Obama’s plan and the plan put forward by the Gang of 8 senators call to increase Border Patrol enforcement programs.

Enlace, coordinator of the National Private Prison Detention Campaign, has compiled data on private prison industry money to pressure Congress for more enforcement business in any comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The Private Prison Lobby
First, a brief guide to the private prison lobby. Numbers are from their 2012 quarterly lobby disclosure reports filed with the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House. The Center for Responsive Politics has a useful site where much of this information is posted.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, lobbyist for CCA, received $220,000 for its services for CCA in 2012.

Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc., received $280,000 to lobby for CCA in 2012. McBee Strategic Consulting received $320,000 in 2012 from CCA. CCA in-house lobby registered $970,000 in lobbying for 2012.

Navigators Global lobbies for GEO. GEO paid Navigators Global $120,000 for lobbying in 2012. Lionel (Leo) Aguirre was also paid $120,000 for lobbying for GEO.

Among the gang of eight senators, all but Lindsay Graham and John McCain have received significant money from the private prison corporations. The transparency watchdog, Open Secrets, compiled the figures by adding contributions from members, employees, PACs or immediate family members of the organization.

* Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.): Chair of the Rules Committee, Member of Judiciary and Chair of Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Enforcement. In 2012, Schumer received at least $64,000 from lobbyists Akin Gump et al, and $2,500 from Mehlman Vogel. He also received $34,500 from FMR (Fidelity), which owns 5.09 percent of CCA and 8.67 percent of GEO.

* Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): Member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Foreign Relations, received $29,300 from the GEO Group. Wells Fargo (also heavily invested in private prisons) gave Rubio $16,150.

* Bob Menendez (D-N.J): Finance Committee, new chair of Foreign Relations, received more than $39,000 in documented money from private prison lobbyists, with $34,916 coming from Akin Gump, $6,300 from Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. and $1,000 from McBee Strategic Consulting.

* Michael Bennet (D-Colo.): Finance Committee, received at least $30,794 from
Akin Gump.

The prison lobby also targeted several key House members Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Budget committee and member of Appropriations, received $21,600 from Akin Gump; $74,700 from McBee Strategic Consulting.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who is on the House Budget and Judiciary committees, received money from: Akin, Gump et al ($19,600); and contributions from Mehlman Vogel associates totaling $2,500.

What these lobbyists want for their money is an immigration reform bill that tightens, rather than loosens the criminal net for undocumented workers and their families.

The inhumane and illogical step of pre-deportation detention was invented by the private prison industry. Last year, the Obama administration spent more money on immigration enforcement, including detention, than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined — a staggering $18 billion. The detention centers receive $166 per person, per day in government funds — an amount that would be a godsend to a homeless family or unemployed worker.

Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, director of Enlace, notes, “The private prison industry is swamping the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committees to try to buy them to keep Operation Streamline so they can incarcerate more immigrants in private prisons despite immigration reform.” There is nothing surprising about that, he adds, “That’s their business.”

The national movement made up of local organizations against private detention centers has a simple demand — stop funding private immigrant detention centers. They have blocked construction of new prisons and pressured investment funds and individuals to divest from private prison stock. They have also turned their sights on the politicians that feed federal money into the system.

Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a member of the divestment campaign, explains that her group is meeting with Florida Congressional representatives to counteract the influence of the private prison lobby.

“In the broadest sense, what we’re trying to do is to show the financial impact on policies and the conversation in the context of immigration reform,” she says.

Are members of Congress being bought off? Rodriguez replies, “I think that when people are being heavily lobbied and when there’s financial interests involved and when our representatives are benefiting from those financial interests directly through lobbying, it compromises their ability to do what’s right for taxpayers and immigrant families.”

There is a lot at stake for the private prison companies. CCA and GEO reported combined revenues of $3 billion dollars in 2011, with nearly half — $1.3 billion — coming directly from federal government, according to 2011 annual reports. They will fight hard for continued incarceration under immigration reform — whether it makes sense policy-wise or not.

The human rights issues involved in locking up migrants for profit, separating families and detaining individuals in poor and humiliating conditions rarely even make it into the debate. Instead, politicians are tempted to curry support among the prison industry and conservatives, with more talk of “enforcement” as the trading chip for citizenship and less talk of human rights.

Meanwhile, citizen groups are hoping that greater transparency and public awareness of the role of private prison corporations will lead to a more lasting and rights-based comprehensive immigration reform, one where for-profit immigrant detention centers become a relic of a crueler past.

Follow Laura Carlsen on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cipamericas


A Company That Runs Prisons Will Have Its Name on a Stadium

By — Published: February 19, 2013 – New York Times
Florida Atlantic UniversityAn artist’s rendering of the Florida Atlantic football stadium, renamed for the GEO Group.

Florida Atlantic University
An artist’s rendering of the Florida Atlantic football stadium, renamed for the GEO Group.

In recent years, where stadium naming rights could be sold, universities and professional sports teams have sold them — to airlines and banks and companies that sell beer, soda, doughnuts, cars, telecommunications, razors and baseball bats. This led to memorable examples like Enron Field, the KFC Yum! Center and the University of Phoenix Stadium.

On Tuesday, that trend took another strange turn when Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, firmed a deal to rename its football building GEO Group Stadium. Perhaps that pushed stadium naming to its zenith, if only because the GEO Group is a private prison corporation.

For this partnership, there is no obvious precedent.

The university’s president described the deal as “wonderful” and the company as “well run” and by a notable alumnus. But it also left some unsettled, including those who study the business of sports and track the privatization of the prison industry. To those critics, this was a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash.

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With Immigration Reform Looming, Private Prisons Lobby to Keep Migrants Behind Bars


Posted on: 13/02/2013 by 

America’s Program


As the immigration reform debate heats up, an important argument has been surprisingly missing. By granting legal status to immigrants and ordering future flows, the government would save billions of dollars. A shift to focus border security on real crime, both local and cross border, would increase public safety and render a huge dividend to cash-strapped public coffers.

This kind of common-sense immigration reform has the multibillion-dollar private prison industry shaking in its boots. Its lobbyists are actively targeting members of Congressional budget and appropriations committees to not only maintain, but increase incarceration of migrants—with or without comprehensive immigration reform.

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How Immigration Reform Could Expand Incarceration of Immigrants

by Seth Freed – Color Lines

Wednesday, February 6 2013, 9:47 AM EST

A woman being held at an ICE detention facility. Photo: Getty Images/John Moore

A woman being held at an ICE detention facility. Photo: Getty Images/John Moore

The House made its first formal foray into immigration reform yesterday at a lengthy Judiciary Committee hearing in which Republicans struck a familiar chord. Despite record-setting deportation levels in recent years, Republican members of the committee were in broad agreement that they want even more enforcement before they could sign onto the comprehensive reform ideas laid out by Senate negotiators and President Obama.

“There is not in my opinion very much enforcement going on at all in the interior of the country,” said Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.

The heightened enforcement that Goodlatte and others seek raises a thorny question for the immigration reform process: Will it address the dire concerns many have about the ways in which immigrants are detained while awaiting deportation?

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Private Prisons Will Get Totally Slammed By Immigration Reform

Private Prisons Will Get Totally Slammed By Immigration Reform

Business Insider 

By Paul Szoldra
February 2, 2013

As the Senate and the White House turn their focus to comprehensive immigration reform, little attention has been given to who would be negatively impacted by any move to fix the country’s broken immigration system and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. california-prisons

Perhaps no one has a bigger interest in maintaining the status quo than private prisons, a billion dollar industry built largely on contracts with federal agencies, including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Over the past decade, revenues for the industry giants — Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group — have skyrocketed, thanks in large part to a federal program introduced under President George W. Bush in 2005 dubbed Operation Streamline, which brought federal criminal charges against people who cross the border illegally.

“[Prior to 2005,] typically when someone was apprehended at the border they would be deported or dealt with in the civil immigration system,” Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, told Business Insider. “What Streamline did was move those people into the criminal justice system and charged them with one of two crimes.”

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Immigration Reform Must End, Not Expand, Operation Streamline

Immigration Reform Must End, Not Expand, Operation Streamline

By: Bob Libal

Bob Libal is the Executive Director of  Grassroots Leadership

Huff Post

The debate over the proposed “comprehensive immigration reform” bill is intensifying, with a “gang of six” senators attempting to hash out a bill that would regularize the status of some undocumented immigrants but may also include increased funding for harsh border enforcement policies.

This debate overlooks the astounding fact that federal spending on immigration enforcement now surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined. One of the most costly of these programs is Operation Streamline, a little-known enforcement program that is part of broader trend funneling immigrants into the criminal justice system. These policies channel billions of dollars to private prison corporations and are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in prison. The “gang of six” are reportedly considering expanding funding of Operation Streamline.

Streamline, started in 2005 along a 210-mile section of the Texas-Mexico border around Del Rio, Texas, mandates that most immigrants apprehended crossing the border in designated areas are referred for criminal prosecution in the federal justice system.

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Reintroducing the Private Prison Information Act: An Interview by Mel Motel

Reintroducing the Private Prison Information Act: An Interview

by Mel Motel

Prison Legal News: Dedicated to Protecting Human Rights

Christopher Petrella and Alex Friedmann are leading a coalition of organizations urging U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act during the 113th Congress. I reached them both on the phone on a busy afternoon on January 9, 2013. Alex spoke from his office in Nashville, Tennessee while Christopher was on the road in Boston.

Christopher Petrella is a doctoral student in U.C. Berkeley’s Department of African American Studies; his dissertation focuses on the intersection of race, class and prison privatization. He also teaches classes at San Quentin State Prison.

Alex Friedmann is the managing editor of Prison Legal News, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and president of the Private Corrections Institute, which opposes prison privatization. He spent ten years behind bars, including six years at a facility in Tennessee operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

* * *

MEL MOTEL: So let’s talk about this bill, the Private Prison Information Act (PPIA). Why is this bill important? Who should care about this issue?

ALEX FRIEDMANN: The PPIA would apply to private prison contractors on the federal level – it would subject them to the same obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that apply to public corrections agencies. Currently, FOIA does not apply to privately-operated prisons. This is important as a transparency issue. It would put all federal facilities, both prisons and detention centers, public and private, on equal footing – it doesn’t matter where people are housed, the facilities should still be subject to FOIA. So beyond it being an issue for just prisoners or people that are directly connected to prisoners, it’s a public taxpayer issue.


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