The supposed grand bargain of the immigration reform bill is shaping up to be a lucrative deal for prisons. As a compromise between “border security” and “amnesty,” the comprehensive reform plan emerging in Congress ties the “legalization” of millions of migrants to the prospective criminalization of millions more.
The Senate’s reform bill, now being debated in the House, would boost immigration enforcement by beefing up border patrols, militarized barriers, border surveillance, immigration prosecutions and privately run detention facilities. According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections, the original bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee “would increase the prison population by about 14,000 inmates annually by 2018.” (The number of “immigration offenders” in federal prison has risen over the past decade to about 22,100 in 2011.) Just before passage, the bill was saddled with the draconian “Hoeven-Corker border security amendment,” which contains harsher, more costly enforcement provisions, including a doubling of border agents to roughly 40,000.
Though the fate of the bill is now unclear, House Republicans could take an even more reactionary stance, perhaps by insisting on even more oppressive border security measures in exchange for reform or by simply rejecting any significant steps toward legalization and pushing tighter restrictions instead.
Under the centrist reform plan, some immigrants can gain legal status under certain conditions, such as paying heavy fines and meeting rigid qualifications for criminal background checks and employment status. Attainiing citizenship could take well over a decade. Meanwhile, to placate conservatives, the bill expands the corporate systems that lock up and dehumanize the migrants who don’t make it over the legal threshold.
So, while the bill produces new citizens, the “security” measures would produce more prisoners, conveniently filling tens of thousands of detention beds, many of them run by for-profit contractors on the public’s dime. As Stephen Myrow, managing director of the investment research firm ACG Analytics, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “Immigration reform will boost revenue at privately operated prisons.”
In other words, ”there is a tremendous incentive [in the Senate bill] for those contractors who could bid for new prison contracts,” says Alexis Mazón, a researcher with Justice Strategies, a criminal justice watchdog group. And they aren’t the only beneficiaries, she notes: Developers and manufacturers of policing and surveillance technologies also stand to gain. Read the rest of this entry →