When immigration ‘reform’ propels private prison profiteering

When immigration ‘reform’ propels private prison profiteering

Washington : DC : USA | Feb 18, 2013 at 1:35 PM PST
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Operation Streamline has propelled private prison profits

Recent immigration reform proposals trade increased border enforcement for the promise of a "pathway to citizenship." But that’s a deal that makes border communities recoil. Enforcement policies propel detention and incarceration, creating human havoc that threatens family unity and endangers community cohesion. Across the nation this week activists will execute days of action to highlight the problem.

Enforcement policies, activists say, are excellent at one thing: They’re lining the pockets of the prison industry. In fact, due to recent federal felony prosecutions of unauthorized border crossers, prisons and detention facilities have burgeoned. Superfluous border enforcement promotes private prison profiteering.

Operation Streamline

In their immigration reform agreement, the Senate’s bipartisan "Gang of Eight," for example, proposes an expansion of "Operation Streamline." This little-known border enforcement program mandates the criminal prosecution of migrants. It advances the recent trend of funneling immigrants into the criminal justice system and charging them with felony or misdemeanor crimes for crossing the border.

Such prosecutions are a serious and troubling departure from the time-honored policy of handling irregular migration as a civil violation.

Since its introduction in 2005, "Operation Streamline" has triggered a dramatic increase in misdemeanor prosecutions of unauthorized border-crossers. But, far worse, felony prosecutions of border crossers with a record of a previous deportation also escalated dramatically. Successful prosecutions of these cases entail a federal prison sentence of up to 20 years, generating lucrative contracts for "Criminal Alien Requirement" (CAR) prisons.

Deportation nation

The Obama administration has removed or deported record numbers of immigrants. In fact, new information reported by USA TODAY reveals that ICE, under the Obama administration, actually used deportation quotas. According to the report, ICE met those quotas by “trolling state driver's license records for information about foreign-born applicants, dispatching U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to traffic safety checkpoints conducted by police departments, and processing more illegal immigrants who had been booked into jails for low-level offenses."

Email sent by David Venturella, former assistant director at ICE, reveals the dirty details: “The only performance measure that will count this fiscal year is the criminal alien removal target,” he stated last April, according to the USA Today article. It’s significant to note that Venturella, according to his LinkedIn profile, now serves as the executive vice president for corporate development at GEO Group, reports Grassroots Leadership. The link between deportation and detention runs exceedingly thin, at least in his case.

Record removals have created a subset composed of the desperate deported who, although lacking authorization, must risk everything to rejoin their US families. They are fodder for ensnarement in Operation Streamline enforcement.

In 2011, as a matter of fact, the two crimes most frequently prosecuted in the federal judicial system were unauthorized entry and re-entry. Those litigations of victimless crimes far outstripped the federal prosecutions of murder, robbery or financial fraud, reports Tuscon’s Coalición de Derechos Humanos.

Latino populations in prisons are growing explosively, one result of increased border enforcement. While comprising only 16 percent of the US population, Latinos now compose more than 50 percent of those sentenced to federal prison.

Costly incarceration

Since 2005, the federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion to incarcerate undocumented immigrants for unauthorized entry and re-entry. That staggering amount is above and beyond the $2 billion annual expenditure allotted for the civil immigration detention system. The private prison industry is the biggest beneficiaries of these programs. Much of the $5.5 billion is channeled to private prison corporations that manage "Criminal Alien Requirement" prisons.

Lucrative government contracts have contributed to record profits for CAR private-prison corporations like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America. In fact, in a 2011 letter to shareholders, GEO Group's CEO George Zoley specifically credited federal border enforcement and immigration detention initiatives for creating a demand for larger-scale, cost efficient facilities.

In short, border enforcement is very good for GEO’s business.

End Operation Streamline

Activists across the nation are demanding an end to Operation Streamline. They’ve declared National Days of Action this week, Feb. 19-21, leading up to a legislative hearing in Washington Feb. 22 about Operation Streamline as part of the discussions on comprehensive immigration reform.

Participants in the National Days of Action are demanding that immigration reform should halt, rather than expand, the criminalization of migration. Public protests, press conferences, op-ed columns in the press and meeting with legislators are all on the agenda for the coming week. Public actions are planned in several cities.

The movement is calling on the federal government to:

  • Decriminalize border crossing. Repeal unauthorized entry[§1325] and unauthorized re-entry [§1326]. Maintain border crossing as a civil, not criminal, violation. Eliminate Department of Justice funding for felony and misdemeanor prosecutions of migrants crossing the border.
  • Prohibit outsourcing of federal detention and incarceration functions. This means not delegating the roles of ICE, Bureau of Prisons, and US Marshalls’ detention to private prison companies and local jurisdictions, via contracts, Intergovernmental Service Agreements, MOUs, or other similar agreements.
  • Eliminate Department of Justice funding for the "CAR" prison program.

So-called border enforcement policies of incarceration create chaos in Latino communities. Inhumane treatment of immigrants ravels the fabric of the nation. The data indicate that border security, with respect to immigration, has received sufficient focus and resources. Border security is an issue of its own. Considering it alongside immigration reform is more confusing than helpful.

Immigration reform should focus on reforming immigration and not expand border enforcement. Criminal prosecutions of migrants promote the unnecessary growth of private prisons at a time when crime is down nationwide. Lucrative contracts for CAR prisons only serve the interests of private prison profiteers, not public safety.

Operation Streamline and CAR prison contracts to incarcerate migrants crossing the border are aberrations done in our name that need to end.


Grassroots Leadership

The Restoration Project, Tucson, AZ

Coalición de Derechos Humanos

Detention Watch Network


Berkeley Law : Operation Streamline

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Private prisons have profited from the criminalization of immigrants. Activists are calling for an end to "Operation Streamline" and to the linking of border enforcement to immigration reform.
Billie Greenwood is based in Davenport, Iowa, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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