Arizona's Draconian Immigration Law Is Great ... For Our Prison-Industrial Complex

Editor's note: This is satire.


All these liberals whining about “racial profiling” are missing the larger point. We’re in a recession here. Unemployment’s been hovering at ten percent. Perhaps the economy's turned a corner, but the American labor market hasn't.

Yet nobody’s really talking about how Arizona’s new immigration law is going to bring big business to the Copper State.

In 2006, when DHS only had 1.5 million people going through immigration proceedings, the Washington Post reported that ICE held "more detainees a night than Clarion Hotels have guests, operates nearly as many vehicles as Greyhound has buses and flies more people each day than do many small U.S. airlines."

Someone’s got to guard those detainees, clean those buses and fly those planes -- we’re talking about American jobs!

In addition to its own detention facilities -- they're not called "jails" because many of those held are never charged with a crime -- ICE leases thousands of beds in 312 county and city prisons.

And we're not talking about just some European-style government-run prison scheme -- these include dozens of private, for-profit facilities. The immigration detention system is crucially important for major companies like Halliburton, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group. So we're talking about private sector jobs. And they're impossible to ship overseas!

"Housing federal detainees typically brings in more per 'man-day,'" an industry term for what is earned per detainee, "than they can get from state prison systems," wrote Leslie Berestein in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

This is one of the last remaining growth industries, and all thanks to some heavy government intervention -- stimulus of a different kind. Michele Deitch, an expert on prison privatization at the University of Texas in Austin, told the Union-Tribune that "the private prison industry was on the verge of bankruptcy in the late 1990s, until the feds bailed them out with the immigration-detention contracts."

CCA, one of the largest, has had a spectacular resurgence based in large part on changes in immigration policy. In a conference call with investors in 2008, John Ferguson, CEO of the firm, said he was optimistic that DHS's detention network would continue to expand. "We see that the budget supports the detention population of 33,000 inmate detainee beds," Ferguson said. "What I am most encouraged about is everything we are hearing says 33,000 is still not enough."

According to "The Business of Detention," by Stokely Baksh and Renee Feltz, five of CCA's "lucrative contracts to detain immigrants have no end date. Several of its other contracts contain 'take or pay' clauses that guarantee a certain amount of revenue regardless of occupancy rates, as well as periodic rate increases. All of the contracts are renewed at a rate of almost 95 percent."

The major players in the growing immigrant detention business are generous donors to the campaigns of immigration hardliners on Capitol Hill. They need to be: According to Detention Watch, releasing immigrants while their cases are pending costs as little as $12 dollars per day, and 93 percent of them show up for court. Each of the tens of thousands of detainees held in ICE's nationwide prison network costs taxpayers an estimated $95 per day, or about eight times as much. Stimulating!

These private prison companies, which were languishing just a few years ago, are now poised to build on their recent success in Arizona, a sunny new immigration police state!

Now, perhaps you’ve spotted a flaw in this ‘Papers, Please’ Stimulus Plan: the new law all but guarantees that migrant communities will no longer cooperate with Arizona law enforcement agencies or report serious crimes when they occur. So maybe you're wondering about all the criminals who won’t be caught because of the measure? Wouldn’t they have required housing, guards, transportation and the like if they'd been arrested?

Well, yes, but remember: there are far, far more people guilty of what were misdemeanor immigration offenses until last week than there are robbers, rapists and murderers!

Plus, there’s an entirely different pool of potential … customers. People mistakenly identified as “illegals”! Sure, most of those detained by ICE are unauthorized immigrants, but permanent residents, studentstourists, and people seeking asylum from torture and persecution also get swept up in the maw of Homeland Security in not-insignificant numbers.

While rare, American citizens -- mostly, but not exclusively those with Hispanic names -- get caught in the system as well. McClatchy Newspapers' Marisa Taylor told the tale of Thomas Warziniack, an addict from Minnesota who was shipped off to an Arizona detention facility a year after a Colorado Judge had confirmed that he was in fact a U.S. citizen. "The story of how immigration officials decided that a small-town drifter with a Southern accent was an illegal Russian immigrant illustrates how the federal government mistakenly detains and sometimes deports American citizens," wrote Taylor.

The system may be bad for Warziniack, but it's good for the Corrections Corporation of America, and that’s the same as saying it's “good for America!”

Taylor also noted that once in the system, detainees tend to be loyal customers. "Proving citizenship is especially difficult for the poor, mentally ill, disabled or anyone who has trouble getting a copy of his or her birth certificate while behind bars," she wrote.

Many of those who police will “reasonably suspect” of being here illegally will be poorer workers, who will have limited access to legal help. There are no guarantees of representation in immigration proceedings; there is no public defender available for low-income detainees. According to the Minnesota Star Tribune, 3 out of 4 are left to navigate the system on their own.

Now, all of that is just on the detention side. But this new law also empowers any yahoo Tea Party-type with a sense of grievance -- and are there any who don't harbor such sentiments? -- to sue local officials whom they believe aren't enforcing immigration laws with sufficient zeal.

This is going to unleash a litigation bonanza that reduces unemployment among attorneys, judges, clerks, legal aides, and municipal officials to zero very quickly. In fact, they'll probably have to train people who lost jobs in other sectors of the economy just to keep up with the growing demand!

As 4 out of 5 children working in Burmese sweatshops will tell you: jobs can be more important than abstract ideas like "human rights." So just keep in mind that it's a nuanced issue.

*****

PS: Whether or not it succeeded, please note that this was intended as satire. So, for the record (and in order to avoid some very dull arguments in the comments), I do not support Arizona's new immigration law. And I am not seriously advocating expanded detention in private prisons as a means of stimulating the economy. Thanks for your attention to this matter.

I plundered this old article for all the quotes and data in the post above. You can find links to everything there in the original piece.

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