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5/23: Why Immigrant Detainees Are Turning to Civil Disobedience(3)
Released 05 June 2014  By Max Blumenthal

(....Continue from Part Two)

Private prison corporations like GEO Group have yielded whopping gains during the Obama era, leveraging record levels of deportations overseen by the administration to win new contracts across the country. With hundreds of millions in taxpayer money channeled into company coffers each year, GEO Group has ratcheted up its lobbying efforts in Washington, joining with other members of the private prison industry to guard against financially damaging reforms. This year, the company shelled out at least $100,000 in lobbying fees, while donating even more to candidates in both parties.

The 9/11 attacks were the turning point for the private prison industry. Two years after that fateful day, the newly created Department of Homeland Security introduced <a href="> Operation Endgame. The DHS document was essentially a blueprint for total deportation, urging the federal government to “increase its overall number of removals annually in order to thwart and deter continued growth in the illegal alien population. Moving toward a 100% rate for removal of all removable aliens is critical…”

The year after DHS introduced this startling proposal, the Northwest Detention Center opened on a badly contaminated Superfund site in Tacoma’s Tideflats area. Over vehement public opposition, the Tacoma City Council approved the jail on the grounds that it would create “hundreds of family-wage job opportunities.” It was to be operated by the Florida-based Correctional Services Corporation (CSC), a private prison contractor eager to offset construction costs through public funding.

An in-depth joint investigation by the Tacoma-based News Tribune and the nonprofit InvestigateWest found that CSC collaborated with local lawmakers to ensure that city taxpayers covered the bulk of costs associated with building the jail. In the end, only forty-five jobs arose from the prison’s construction—far less than the hundreds initially projected.

For decades, GEO Group had operated under the banner of Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, a scandal-scarred private security and prison firm with a lengthy and well-documented record of human rights abuses. Following scores of abuse claims by prisoners and harsh condemnation by the Department of Justice for “excessive abuse and neglect,” Wackenhut was acquired by the European prison corporation G4S in 2002. (G4S holds contracts to operate Israeli prisons in the occupied Palestinian territories, where human rights advocates have documented widespread abuses.)

Formerly a subsidiary of Wackenhut/G4S, GEO Group established itself as a fully independent corporate entity in 2003. In 2005, GEO Group acquired CSC, taking direct control over the Northwest Detention Center. Within five years, GEO Group had secured contracts to administer nearly 100 prisons across the country with room for at least 77,000 beds.

Private prison industry profits have skyrocketed since 2007, when a bipartisan vote in Congress authorized a peculiar law known as the bed quota. The provision required the Department of Homeland Security to detain at least 34,000 people a day in federal immigrant prisons, imposing an incarceration mandate that remains unchanged despite declining levels of illegal immigration.

According to Mora Villalpando of the #Not1More coalition, policies like the bed quota inspired ICE to classify any contact between undocumented migrants and law enforcement as “criminal activity.” And thanks to Secure Communities, a controversial program linking local police to the ICE database, beat cops have been transformed into de facto immigration agents. For the undocumented, an arrest for even the most minor offense could mean deportation, or least several months inside a prison like the Northwest Detention Center.

In privatized jails, every body has a monetary value. Indeed, GEO Group bills the federal government $164 per day for each immigrant it holds. As a direct result of the bed quota, the cost of detaining undocumented immigrants to US taxpayers has spiked to $2.8 billion a year, over double what it was in 2006. The federal money flows straight into the coffers of GEO Group executives; their team of lobbyists at Navigators Global, a DC firm; and to Lionel Aguirre, another GEO Group lobbyist with a wealth of connections on both sides of the political aisle in Austin.

In 2012, following three decades of skyrocketing incarceration rates and almost 2 million deportations since Obama’s inauguration, GEO Group announced a record $1.4 billion in profits. The company’s CEO, George Zoley, became the wealthiest correctional officer in America, raking in a whopping $22 million between 2008 and 2012 while his employees’ incomes stagnated and conditions worsened in his jails.

In 2013, after spending over $1 million to lobby members of Congress, GEO Group announced it would not pressure lawmakers in any way over the immigration reform efforts proposed that year. However, as reporter Lee Fang revealed in The Nation, the corporation had already renewed its contract with Navigators Global in DC.

Asked about GEO Group’s lobbying efforts, Paez insisted to me that his company hired Navigators Global to push for alternatives to detention like ankle-bracelet monitoring, a reform proposed by some members of Congress opposed to the bed quota. Paez freely conceded that GEO Group’s interest in detention alternatives stemmed not from humanitarian concerns, but from more profiteering. As he explained to me, GEO Group owns BI Incorporated, the firm that won a hefty contract from ICE to administer the high-tech surveillance program. “Our company’s discussions have been entirely focused on educating lawmakers on the benefits and successes of the Alternatives to Detention program since our company’s subsidiary is in fact the main provider of community supervision alternatives to detention,” Paez stated.

Following on the heels of the private prison industry, companies like Talton Communications have moved in to exploit a literally captive market. A tech firm contracted by ICE to maintain for-profit telephone services at the Northwest Detention Center, Talton routinely absorbs telephone credit from immigrants who had been deported. According to Mora Villalpando, the company may have seized hundreds of thousands of dollars for deported former detainees. Other telecommunications firms like Global Tel*Link have been accused of charging $17 or more for each fifteen-minute long-distance call placed by detainees from immigration prisons.

In January, after a lawsuit by telecommunications firms, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit blocked substantial portions of an FCC order that would have limited the telecom industry’s price-gouging of prisoners.

(....Continue Part Four)

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