In a stunning article in In These Times on “Corporate Con Game: How the private prison industry helped shape Arizona’s anti-immigrant law”, Beau Hodai shines a bright light on the behind-the-scenes effort to write and pass Arizona’s S.B. 1070 – the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.
An In These Times investigation showed that the bill’s promoters were as dedicated to border politics as they were to promoting the fortunes of private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group, which stand to reap substantial profits as more undocumented residents end up in jail.
Who were these promoters? If the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) comes to mind, you’ve hit the nail on the head. ALEC comprises 10 task forces, each responsible for developing “model legislation,” which ALEC member lawmakers then sponsor and introduce in their home states. The organization’s current corporate roster includes the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, the nation’s largest private jailer), the Geo Group (the nation’s second largest private jailer), Sodexho Marriott (the nation’s leading provider of food services to private correctional institutions), and the Koch Foundation, to name just a few. ALEC’s legislative membership includes Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the prime sponsor of S.B. 1070, and 35 other Arizona legislators.
Is there a Texas connection? Due to the rising number of immigrant detentions in recent years, coupled with the economic decline at both the state and federal levels, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under Department of Homeland Security has farmed out the operations of many of its detention facilities under inter-government service agreements (IGSAs).
An example of one of these IGSA enterprises would be the nation’s largest immigrant detention facility, the Willacy County Processing Center in Raymondville, Texas. This jail, though owned by the county, is operated by Management and Training Corporation, a Utah-based private prison manager. Consisting of several massive dome-like structures, the Willacy “Tent City” can warehouse more than 3,000 immigrant detainees awaiting deportation at any given time. However, ICE does not keep tabs on who is operating these detention centers at the state or county level through IGSAs, so it is difficult to assess how many of these facilities are run by private firms.