02 November 2010

Arizona Immigration Law Spawned With Private Prison Support

If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB1070 legislation, there’s no need to wonder anymore. According to a recent report from NPR’s Morning Edition, we can largely thank the private prison industry for generating this bill, which holds the potential to make industry insiders “hundreds of millions of dollars” -- all off the backs of undocumented immigrants.

The Morning Edition report -- which features research and data unearthed by Ms. Foundation grantee Grassroots Leadership -- shows that private prison corporations and leaders walked hand-in-hand with Arizona legislators throughout the campaign to get SB1070 drafted, passed and signed into law. The largest for-profit prison corporation in the nation, Corrections Corporation of America, was at the table when a group of legislators and big business representatives got together to write the bill, delivered to the legislature by Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce.

Congressional sponsors of the legislation were promptly rewarded with major donations from prison corporation lobbyists. According to NPR, "Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months from prison lobbyists or prison companies – [including] Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group" -- all companies that would greatly benefit from the passage of the bill.

SB1070 requires law enforcement to lock up people who cannot prove that they are citizens, establishing a new prison-ready population -- undocumented immigrants -- who will have to be housed somewhere. This makes the law a perfect vehicle for filling prisons and expanding business for the corporations in question, and Corrections Corporation of America and their allies are banking on this expanded inmate population to help pad their bottom lines.

Notably, this strategy is not one industry leaders are even attempting to keep secret: according to the NPR report, capitalizing on the detainment of undocumented immigrants is a business model openly discussed within the for-profit prison community. In a conference call with investors, the president of Geo Group, Wayne Calabrese, came clean about the potential SB1070 holds for growing their business: "I can only believe the opportunities at the federal level are going to continue apace as a result of what's happening,” he said. “Those people coming across the border and getting caught are going to have to be detained and… I think there's going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do."

Knowing the truth behind the origins of this bill makes it all the more crucial that we work to get it -- and other bills like it that have been proposed in 25 states -- fully overturned. It's going to be a long fight: just yesterday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her legal team appeared in federal appeals court to back SB1070 (a lower court has already stayed some pieces of the legislation). While the Obama administration is standing firm in its argument that "requiring police officers to question immigration status is unconstitutional," Brewer and her allies are vowing to take this battle all the way to the Supreme Court if they need to.

With forces like these striving to undermine the dignity and freedoms of the immigrant population, the work of organizations like Grassroots Leadership, which fights for transparency in our legislatures and humanity and justice on our streets, becomes ever more important. Learn more about their efforts to support the human rights of all immigrants, and do your part to push back against these discriminatory measures now proliferating across the nation.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Rappaport, Immigration March, Washington DC, May 2010

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