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How Wall Street Profits from the Criminalization of Immigrants and Lobbies for More To Be Locked Up

Two Wall Street-backed powerhouses are making fat profits off of the private immigration detention system, and they're flexing their muscles in Congress.

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By almost any measure, the increased number of deportations of immigrants has not had the desired effects on anyone other than the private prison industry. Unemployment among native-born citizens in the U.S. has skyrocketed as the number of immigrants being deported has risen to over 400,000 a year.

The United States now has more people in prison than any other country on earth. At over 2 million, the U.S. has a half million more people behind bars than China, which has the second highest number of prisoners.

One would like to think that bringing this information to Congress’s attention would be enough to compel them to abandon policies that criminalize immigrants. However, that is not likely to happen soon.

This probable reluctance on the part of Congress to act isn’t merely because of the substantial campaign contributions that Senators and members of Congress receive from the private prison industry. Most members of Congress have personal investments in one or more of CCA’s or GEO’s major shareholders.

While it is true that many people are invested in CCA or GEO through their pensions without knowing it, reports on the personal finances of some key members of Congress suggest some of them have more than a casual interest in the fortunes of CCA or GEO.

One example of a Washington DC powerhouse with a substantial financial interest in CCA is Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, one of a small group of investors in Pershing Square, a hedge fund that holds the most stock in CCA of any of the company’s shareholders. Senator Enzi, a senior Republican who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, was awarded a 100% approval rating by U.S. Border Control (USBC), which describes itself as “a non-profit, tax-exempt, citizen’s lobby. USBC is dedicated to ending illegal immigration by securing our nation’s borders and reforming our immigration policies.”

As Congress is currently tasked with finding ways to reduce the burgeoning deficit and alleviate the suffering caused by the economic crisis, shifting priorities from programs that benefit prison companies to much-needed programs that benefit taxpayers only makes sense. Compelling Congress to abandon immigrant criminalization policies is probably going to require, among other things, that citizens convince some combination of our pension funds, Wells Fargo, and a key hedge fund or two, to pull out of the private prison industry and to go elsewhere to make money.

We should be able accomplish this. IBM and Ford, when challenged, found themselves unable to justify their investments in apartheid in South Africa. As a result of a swelling movement of students, faith-based organizations, unions and shareholders, these companies divested in 1986, contributing to the fall of the racist apartheid system and a transition to democracy.

Similarly, Wells Fargo, Pershing Square, and other financial giants shall be hard-pressed to justify investments in the massive suffering caused by the criminalization of immigrants, as a movement comes together to expose the harm done to the public good by their current investments in the immigrant prison industry.

Who knows? Some of these financial institutions might even see the wisdom in investing in companies that produce family-wage jobs.

Peter Cervantes-Gautschi is the Director of  Enlace, a Portland, OR based organization focused on strategic organizing, campaigns, and training in organizational development around workers’ struggles, and the impacts of multinational corporations in the lives of people in all sectors of society. Peter has been a labor activist since 1965, starting as a young farm worker in Southern California. He is a frequent contributor to the Americas Program www.cipamericas.org.

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[1] Arizona campaign contribution reports compiled by the National Institute On Money in State Politics show that CCA’s CEO Damon Hininger, CFO Todd Mullenger, CDO Anthony Grande, and then General Counsel, Gus Puryear, contributed to Jan Brewer’s campaign.

 
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