Expose of private prisons for immigration violators

The Nov/Dec 2009 issue of the Boston Review contains an article by Tom Barry titled “A Death in Texas: Profits, poverty, and immigration converge.” Barry assiduously tracks the growth and performance of private prisons created and managed by private contractors to hold immigrants arrested for immigration violations. This is a must read and will be a factor in the upcoming push for immigration reform.
Thus far, immigration prosecutions in 2009 outpace those of 2008 by 14 percent. Prosecutions are up 139 percent compared to five years ago, 459 percent compared to 1999, and 973 percent compared to 1989…….
Though speculative prisons come with no guarantees, all along the Southwest border—from Florence, Arizona to Raymondville, Texas—business is good. Since early 2003, the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems have merged, breaking the longstanding tradition of treating immigration violations as administrative offenses and creating hundreds of thousands of new criminal aliens.
While the growth in immigrant detention is in part due to the country’s increased immigrant population, the shift in immigration policy away from regulation and toward enforcement, punishment, and deterrence is more significant. Unwilling to pass a reform bill that would effectively regulate immigration, Congress and the executive branch have turned to the criminal justice and penal systems.
New anti-immigrant laws and practices by ICE and CBP subject immigrants, legal or illegal, to double jeopardy, punishing them twice for the same offense. In 1996 the Republican majority in Congress led approval of three anti-immigrant and anti-crime laws that spurred INS to start cracking down on and deporting immigrants. These laws, together with the executive branch’s increased authority to devise repressive immigration procedures under the post-9/11 pretext of a war on terror, have created an enforcement regime in which noncitizen legal immigrants face immigration consequences (as well as criminal consequences) for past or present violations of criminal law. In other words, illegal immigrants and even noncitizen permanent residents may be jailed and deported for committing crimes or other offenses, whether violent or not. DHS and the Justice Department are not only combing the criminal justice system for legal and illegal immigrants to be detained and deported, but the departments are also working together to transfer illegal immigrants into federal courts and prisons.
Legal scholars have taken to calling this increasing merger of criminal and immigration law and the integration of the criminal justice and immigration systems “crimmigration.”
The private-prison industry’s executives are particularly upbeat about new criminal alien programs such as CBP’s Operation Streamline and ICE’s Secure Communities. GEO Chairman George Zoley told Wall Street analysts in a July 2009 investment conference call: “The main driver for the growth of new beds at the federal level continues to be the detention and incarceration of criminal aliens.” CCA’s Chief Financial Officer, Todd Mullenger, emphasized the importance of programs such as Operation Streamline to prison profits in a recent investment conference call:
Border Patrol has consistently indicated from the planning stage of the initiative to the present that Operation Streamline will require additional detain beds due to increased prosecution and length of stay anticipated by the initiative.
Operation Streamline was launched in 2005 as a pilot project of the Del Rio sector of Texas and extends east to the southern Rio Grande Valley and west to Yuma, Arizona. It is part of a national immigrant crackdown that CBP and ICE variously call “enhanced enforcement” and “zero tolerance.” The program directs Border Patrol agents to turn captured illegal border crossers over to the Marshals Service for prosecution, breaking with the usual practice of simply returning Mexican immigrants to Mexico or releasing non-Mexican immigrants with an order to appear in immigration court.

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