Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Prisons, Immigration and Profits

This is the post meant for last Thursday in our Race and the Commons series.

On Saturday, the LA Times ran a story about a family that had been separated for a year and a half because the father was in a Detention Center, while our nation's broken immigration system figured out whether it would deport this husband and father of U.S. citizens to Guatemala, a country he didn't know since he'd lived in the U.S. since he was a young child. The profile of this family is moving because it shows the human impact of our nation's harsh immigration enforcement policies on mixed status families, in particular, and because it's hopeful outcome is the exception to the rule.

But another important element of the story isn't covered by the reporter, but is buried in the comments section where the family's lawyer, Glenn Fogle, added some details to flesh out the story:
The real travesty here is that a man was separated from his wife and young child for about 20 months in a jail 9 hours away because a court notice was sent to the wrong address and then pointlessly kept in jail at a cost to the U.S. taxpayer of $48,000, which went to the Corrections Corporation of America. The only one that profited here was a big corporation. This is not right and something needs to change. Mr. Guzman and his family are one of many, many thousands of cases across the country.

Again, we're forced to ask the question of who profits from our country's obsession with incarceration. In the last few years immigration enforcement policies have been ramped up, and policies aimed at making life unbearable for immigrants have spread across the country; it's a strategy of "attrition through enforcement."

Arizona's SB1070 put this strategy front and center the national debate last April. The racial profiling law has since been copied in other states around the country (particularly in the South).

But what's been largely ignored is the role that private prison companies have played in promoting this type of legislation. With the increased focus on preventing racial profiling in the last decade and the recent changes to drug laws that have fostered racial disparities for many decades, it seems that companies that profit off of incarceration have been working to sustain their bottom line by expanding the pool of people of color they can profit off of keeping locked up.

The coordination of private prison corporations with anti-immigrant lawmakers is yet another example of the importance of keeping certain functions of government public and protected from the profit motive. And the many stories of families torn apart by the prison industry's greed shows yet again that low income people and people of color suffer most by the enclosure of the commons.

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