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Arizona’s SB 1070 and the Prison Lobby

October 28, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Cash 


 


We have written before that the rationales Arizonans were given for the passage of SB 1070 (the “papers please” law) did not comport with the facts on the ground in Arizona.  While crime was down in Arizona, and border residents and law enforcement in border communities believed their communities were safe, politicians claimed that Arizona was “under attack” by criminal “illegal aliens.”


 


Today, National Public Radio ran a story about the Arizona law which helps us understand why it was needed.  The law wasn’t meant to protect Arizona residents.  It was meant to generate business for the for-profit prison industry and, as a consequence, to line the pockets of politicians who supported SB 1070. 


 


Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce, the chief sponsor of SB 1070, came to Washington to get the bill drafted with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that, according to their tagline, favors “limited government, free markets, and federalism.”  The group’s members are state legislators and corporations.  Among the corporate members is the nation’s largest prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).


 


According to NPR, officials of CCA believe that


 


“immigrant detention is their next big market. Last year, they wrote that they expect to bring in "a significant portion of our revenues" from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that detains illegal immigrants.”


 


They helped Pearce write a “model bill” that became, almost word for word, SB 1070—right down to the title, the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.”


 


Pearce took his bill back to Arizona, and it was time for the prison corporations to buy some influence.  According to NPR,


“Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.”


 


CCA hired a lobbyist to work the Arizona capitol during the time SB 1070 was being considered. 


 


We all know the result.


 


NPR called the law a “new business model” for prison corporations.  The Arizona’s law will (if it ever gets out of the courts) generate a huge new revenue stream for private prisons, as Arizona police lock up anyone who cannot prove they were in the country legally. 


 


If the law proves lucrative in Arizona, you can bet the prison corporations will be taking the model on the road, and looking to build new prisons in states that intend to follow Arizona’s lead.  They’ve already written the legislation.  All they need to do now is to spread some cash around in state capitals across the country.


 


NPR will continue with its report tomorrow.  You can also check out this report from Think Progress, with much of the same information and links to other media reports that have looked into ties between the prison industry, SB 1070, and other prisoner-generating (and thus cash-generating) legislation.


 


Image by Flickr user AMagill

Latino Voter Enthusiasm Increases; California Voters (Still) Support Reform

October 28, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Latino enthusiasm


Source: Latino Decisions. Latinos who said they were "very enthusiastic"
about voting in the upcoming election.


 



It’s less than a week away from the election, and one of the big dramas of this election season has been whether or not Latinos will turn out to vote in great numbers.


 


Latino Decisions conducts weekly tracking polls of Latinos voters.  In their posting from October 25, they report that,


 


“[a]s election day draws near, and early voting is in full swing, Latinos are reportedly showing more and more interest and enthusiasm.”


 


According to their data, “[f]our weeks ago just 40.3% of Latinos said they were very enthusiastic [about voting], and today that figures reaches 58.3%.”


 


Ironically, a voter suppression ad campaign by a group tied to the Republican Party appears to have backfired.  As Latino Decisions notes,


 


“In response to the “don’t vote” campaign, Univision and Telemundo are both increasing their get-out-the-vote public service announcements, and Latino civic groups such as NALEO, NCLR, Mi Familia Vota and others are doubling their efforts to mobilize Latino voters down the stretch.”


 


However, Latinos in the group called the “surge” voters, who voted for the first time in 2008 and helped put President Obama in office, appear to be less enthusiastic about voting this time around.


 


Still, if the trend toward greater interest in voting continues, Latinos will be in a position to influence the outcomes in a number of state-wide and local races.  To help you follow along on election night, America’s Voice has prepared a Voter Guide to the Candidates on Immigration Reform.  The guide,


 


“reviews the candidates’ positions on immigration in sixty-four competitive races in nineteen states.  These include seven gubernatorial, six U.S. Senate, and forty-one U.S. House races in which Latino and immigrant voters could help decide the outcome.”


 


Meanwhile, a new poll of California voters provides some insight into why, in that state at least, using immigration as a wedge issue isn’t particularly effective.  Among other things, the poll, by the Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California, asks likely voters their opinion about immigration and immigration reform.  In one question, respondents are asked whether immigrants today “are a benefit to California because of their hard work and job skills,” or are they “a burden to California because they use public services.”  By a wide margin, 48% to 32%, likely voters believe immigrants are a benefit. 


 


Regarding immigration reform, respondents were asked should “most illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United State for at least two years” be “given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status,” or should they be “deported back to their native country?”  By a margin of 59% to 30%, respondents who said they were likely voters said undocumented immigrants should be given a chance to stay.


 


The poll is consistent with California and national polls from previous years, some of which you can find here.

Waiting for the lame duck

October 14, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Members of Congress are out campaigning for re-election, and there will be no more consideration of legislation until after they return later in November. 


 


Just before the election recess, on September 29, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced S.3932, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010.


 


The bill contains the same basic elements that have comprised other comprehensive reform bills in recent years:


 


Title I focuses on border enforcement.  Title II pertains to interior enforcement, and includes a subtitle on detention reforms.  Title III focuses on worksite enforcement, including an electronic worker verification program and authorizes a voluntary “enhanced” verification system with a biometric identifier. 


 


Title IV reforms the current admissions system.  It establishes a commission that will study the labor market and make admissions recommendations based on economic conditions.  It creates a new temporary worker program with visa limits set by the commission.  The new worker visa will be issued for a three-year period, renewable once, but it will be possible for workers to adjust to permanent status.  It reforms the family visa system in a number of ways, among them: reclassifying spouses and minor children of permanent residents as “immediate relatives” (thus eliminating long waits for visa availability); raising the “per-country ceiling” from seven to 15 percent of total admissions; and including the concept of “permanent partners” in the admissions system.  AgJOBS is incorporated in this title.


 


Title V provides for the legalization of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. as of September 30 (2010).  After six years, the legalized immigrants may adjust to permanent status.  Title V incorporates the DREAM Act.  Title VI pertains to immigrant integration, and includes the “Strengthen and United Communities with Civics Education and English Skills” Act introduced by Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN).  It also contains other miscellaneous provisions.


 


Senator Menendez offers a brief summary of the bill in his statement about its introduction.


 


More information about the bill can be found on the Web site of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, including text of the bill (before it was assigned a number), a “brief” (16-page) summary of the bill, and a longer (73-page) section-by-section summary of the bill.


 


The bill was introduced just before the recess; no action was taken.  Critics charged that the last-minute introduction of this bill, along with the very-late-in-the-session consideration of the DREAM Act on the Senate floor, was a cynical ploy to appeal to Latino voters just before an election.  It is absolutely shocking that politicians would offer policy proposals aimed at mobilizing their base voters prior to an election.  It just never happens.  The next thing you know, politicians will be promising prospective voters they will not raise taxes.  OK, never mind.


 


The truth is that New American and Latino voters have had little to be encouraged about from this Congress, and there had been indications that they would be much less enthusiastic about voting in the upcoming mid-term elections.  The debate about the DREAM Act and the introduction of comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate (and before that the enactment of Arizona’s SB 1070) helped to clarify the positions of the parties for voters, and there are some signs that the immigration debate will help push Latinos to the polls.


 


A Pew Hispanic poll, released on October 5th, found that Latino registered voters favored Democratic candidates over Republicans by a margin of 65% to 22%.  Latinos who had discussed the immigration policy debate with others during the past year are more motivated to vote, according to the Pew poll.  Weekly tracking polls conducted by Latino Decisions indicate that the “Latino enthusiasm gap” seems to be closing, with 75% of Latino registered voters now saying they are “almost certain” to vote in November.


 


In light of all this, it will be interesting to see if motivation provided by last-minute pro-immigration legislative battles will overcome a disinclination to vote by a lot of disappointed New American and Latino voters.  As America’s Voice notes, voter mobilization efforts are just getting underway. 


 


After the election, Congress will return for a lame duck session.  The “lame ducks” are those Members of Congress who will not be returning next year, either because they lost their election or they had decided to retire.  Activity in a lame duck session can be hard to predict.  Members who have lost an election will be freed from having to please voters, and may not feel beholden to the purity police within their own parties.  These Members may feel free to vote their conscience.  That might improve prospects for some immigration legislation to pass.  On the other hand, if Democrats lose control of the House or Senate, Republicans may feel emboldened to hold the line against change, knowing they will control the next Congress.


 


In any event, there remains a fair amount of essential business to complete.  Topping the agenda is funding the government for the fiscal year that began October 1st.  Right now, the government is being funded through a “continuing resolution,” which continues the previous year’s level of funding through December 3rd.  It is expected that, instead of separate bills allocating funds to the various agencies, there will be one giant “omnibus” spending bill that will fund the entire government.  In any event, decisions on budgetary priorities will not be finalized until the spending bill is done. 


 


The way things have gone so far in the 111th Congress, the final spending bill will be delivered to the White house in a sled driven by a team of reindeer.

Insecurities about Secure Communities

October 14, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

When a person is arrested and brought to a police station, their fingerprints are obtained and those prints are run through various government databases.  For communities participating in ICE’s Secure Communities program, those prints are also run through Department of Homeland Security databases to determine immigration status.


 


In recent weeks, DHS has been giving conflicting information about how a jurisdiction, once enrolled, may opt out of the program—or indeed if jurisdictions even have the choice to enroll or not.  The confusion has become the subject of media attention as some localities, concerned about the effect of Secure Communities on their community policing strategies, have inquired about leaving the program.  Top officials at DHS, including Secretary Napolitano, have given contradictory information.


 


Representative Zoe Lofgren raised the issue in a recent letter where she asked DHS Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder to clear up confusion created by contradictory information regarding the steps to be taken by a community wishing to withdraw from the program. 


 


In their response, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich and Secretary Napolitano told Rep. Lofgren that it indeed it is possible for communities to withdraw from the program and that to do so they must notify the Assistant Director for the Secure Communities program at ICE, as well as their State Identification Bureau.


 


Subsequently, in a press conference announcing more “Record-breaking Immigration Enforcement Statistics Achieved under the Obama Administration,” Secretary Napolitano answered a question about the Secure Communities program by saying that, because the program was an information sharing program between the Department of Justice and DHS, it was not possible for communities to withdraw.


 


On the other hand, according to DHS press releases, implementation of the program has been phased in, and it now includes 660 jurisdictions.  Many others are not yet included.  If it is possible for communities to not yet be included, it is unclear how opting out would be impossible.


 


For more information on the Secure Communities program and the efforts of communities to disassociate themselves from it, see the Web site “Uncover the Truth,” operated by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Cardozo School of Law.

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