NPR Investigation: Private Prison Companies Helped Write SB1070

Seth Freed Wessler Oct 29, 2010

Arizona’s draconian and constitutionally suspect anti-immigration law has garnered a great deal of public attention and sent a wave of fear through immigrant communities in that state and across the country. Today, a National Public Radio investigation deepens that story, exposing a sinister tale of backroom profit and politics.

NPR’s Laura Sullivan reports that SB 1070, which makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in the state and requires racial profiling, was largely conceived and drafted by a conservative business lobbying group in Washington, D.C. The group, called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, includes board members from state and federal elected officials as well as representatives of major companies including the Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison company. Russell Pearce, the Arizona state legislator who claims responsibility for SB 1070, is one of the state legislators on ALEC’s board.

According to the NPR report, which was based on extensive culling of campaign finance reports and lobbying and corporate records, ALEC, and particularly CCA, played a pivotal role in conceiving, writing and naming the law that would become SB 1070.

The investigation sheds new light on the complicated and sinister motivations behind the country’s expanding and out of control immigration enforcement system. The federal government deported close to 400,000 people last year and again this year. Most of those deported are detained in detention centers, many of which are privately owned. It’s a deportation pipeline that’s come unhinged.

Last year, according to NPR, Pearce took a trip to Washington where he met with 50 members of ALEC at a secretive meeting at a Hyatt hotel. The groups spent the day crafting a bill to make it a crime to be undocumented in Arizona.

According to NPR, Corrections Corporation of America and a set of other prison groups have explicitly identified immigrant detention as a key part of their growth plan. With this in mind, ALEC helped to craft the bill, which would result in a massive increase in immigrant detention.

Sullivan reports:

According to Corrections Corporation of America reports reviewed by NPR, executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market. Last year, they wrote that they expect to bring in “a significant portion of our revenues” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that detains illegal immigrants.

In the conference room, the group decided they would turn the immigration idea into a model bill. They discussed and debated language. Then, they voted on it.

“There were no ‘no’ votes,” Pearce said. “I never had one person speak up in objection to this model legislation.”

The bill was sent out of that Hyatt conference room and back to Arizona.

Once the language was introduced, the influence of private prison companies intensified. NPR reports that 30 of SB 1070’s 36 co-sponsors received campaign contributions from lobbyists of three major private prison companies including CCA, Geo Group and Management and Training Corporation. And, two of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s lead staffers were formerly prison company lobbyists.

In May, a month after SB1070 became law, Wayne Callabres, the president of Geo Group held a call with investors and explained his company’s aspirations. “Opportunities at the federal level are going to continue apace as a result of whats happening,” he said, referring to the Arizona law. “Those people coming across the border being caught are going to have to be detained and that to me at least suggests there’s going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do.”

While it’s long been clear that private prison companies profit from rapidly upscaling immigrant detention, and incarceration in general, the NPR investigation exposes that the same companies are writing the laws driving their profits. The “enhanced opportunities” of which GEO Group’s president so mechanically speaks are, as Sullivan explains, “opportunities that prison companies helped create.”

This article was originally published on ColorLines.

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