Private Prison Companies Behind the Scenes of Arizona’s Immigration Law
So goes the ringtone on Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce’s phone—as performed by Toby “’cause we put a boot up your ass, it’s the American way” Keith. Seconds into any conversation with Pearce on the issue of illegal immigration, you’ll find the song fits. Pearce is—in his mind—the “American soldier.” What’s more, just as he sees himself a soldier, Pearce envisions his home to be none less than the front in a war which threatens the very fiber of the nation.
“There’s been 133 nations identified crossing that border. Not just Mexicans, not just Hondurans, not just El Salvadorians, but 133 nations. Many of those are nations of interest, which means that they either harbor, aid and abet, or are somehow connected to terrorist activities,” said Pearce. “And yet they continue to cross that border. We’ve got prayer rugs that have been found down there, other things that have been found down there—and yet they [the federal government] continue to do nothing.”
Pearce is the primary sponsor of Arizona’s controversial Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070 / HB 2162), which was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer in April 2010.
The most controversial part of SB 1070 is a requirement that state and local law enforcement officials must try to determine the immigration status of people they come into “lawful contact” with whom they have reasonable suspicion to believe are in the U.S. illegally. This has led to claims the law will be enforced through racial profiling of Hispanics.
The bill has resulted in numerous legal challenges from human rights and civil liberties groups, and has been something of a black eye for Arizona’s national image. Some cities, such as Los Angeles and the People’s Republic of Berkeley, have gone so far as to enact economic contract non-renewal boycotts against businesses based in the state.
Nonetheless, all rhetoric and election year posturing aside, the fact is that some backers of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (dubbed the “Breathing While Brown” law by critics) are wrapping themselves in the flag all the way to the bank.
Some of these proponents are seemingly as dedicated to grandstanding on border politics as they are to promoting the fortunes of private prison corporations, members of the multi-billion dollar immigrant detention industry which stand to reap substantial profits as more undocumented aliens are run through the nation’s immigration, detention and deportation mill.
The Machinations of a War on Illegal Immigration
In early December 2009—a full month and a half before SB 1070 was introduced to the Arizona Senate and nearly two months before its counterpart was first read in the House—Pearce formally submitted a version of his proposed legislation to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization to which he and 35 other Arizona legislators are members.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, ALEC bills itself as “the nation’s largest bipartisan, individual membership association of state legislators” and as a public-private legislative partnership. As such, ALEC claims more than 2,000 state lawmakers (a full third of the nation’s state legislators) plus more than 200 corporate and special interest groups as members.
The organization’s current corporate roster includes Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, the nation’s largest private jailer), GEO Group (the nation’s second largest private jailer), Sodexho Marriott (the nation’s leading food services provider to private correctional institutions), the Koch Foundation, Exxon Mobil, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Pfizer, Boeing, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, Inc. and News Corporation, to name a few.
Despite the fact that federal tax law explicitly forbids 501(c)(3) organizations such as ALEC from taking part in the formation of legislation, ALEC is comprised of nine task forces, each responsible for developing “model legislation” that ALEC member lawmakers then carry back to their home states and introduce as their own.
Although ALEC’s legislative members far outnumber corporate members, a look at the group’s finances illustrates not only the price corporations are willing to pay for a seat at the table with state lawmakers, but where the organization’s loyalties likely lie. According to ALEC’s most recent tax records, in 2008 the group reported a total of $6.9 million in revenue—$93,387 of which was brought in through legislative membership dues (a two-year membership is available to lawmakers for $100, or four years at $200). On the other hand, ALEC received $5.6 million (all but $1.3 million of the group’s annual budget) in contributions from its corporate and special-interest members.
According to ALEC promotional material, each year member legislators carry an average of 1,000 pieces of model legislation back to their home states—20 percent of which are passed into law.
As a testament to ALEC’s efficacy as a pipeline for corporate-backed legislation, since the passage of the federal healthcare overhaul package in late March 2010, legislators in at least 38 states have introduced the ALEC-crafted Freedom of Choice Health Care Act (Health Care Act), which, according to an ALEC press release, was modeled after an Arizona proposal defeated on the ballot in 2008. Ironically, given the fetish Pearce and other ALEC lawmakers have for adherence to federal immigration laws, the Health Care Act is marketed as an assertion of states’ sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment.
Pearce is an executive member of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force. Private sector executive members of this task force include CCA, the American Bail Coalition (which is comprised of nine of the nation’s top bail bond insurer/bounty hunter associations), the National Beer Wholesalers Association, the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers Association, the National Pawn Brokers Association and Prison Fellowship Ministries. The private sector chair of the task force is currently the National Rifle Association (NRA).
According to Michael Hough, director of the Public Safety and Elections Task Force, every bill introduced by any member legislator or corporation must go through a 30-day review process for approval by both public and private sector ALEC members before it can become model legislation. This process, Hough says, was set in motion for Pearce’s immigration bill when he submitted it to his fellow members of the task force during the group’s December 2009 meeting at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C.
Pearce denies that he submitted the bill to ALEC for any other purpose other than to gain their endorsement and to strengthen its ability to weather legal challenges both in Arizona and in other states.
According to Hough, however, ALEC does not issue endorsements, but rather works with lawmakers on the formation and dissemination of model legislation. And Hough says the model legislation, the “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act” (Sanctuary Cities Act), that emerged from the Public Safety and Elections Task Force in early January 2010 is virtually identical to the bill introduced by Pearce in the Arizona legislature later that month.
Pearce says he anticipated that the Arizona law would be challenged by groups supporting “lawbreakers over lawkeepers,” such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Therefore, as Pearce tells it, he turned to the “brightest minds in the nation” and scoured more than 25 years of legislation to help draft his magnum opus immigration omnibus bill. The result, he says, is a law specifically designed to sustain the challenges of the political left.
One of the “brightest minds” that Pearce sought out was Kris Kobach. Kobach served as an advisor to former Attorney General John Ashcroft in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, helping to implement the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System that called for the monitoring of individuals from Middle Eastern nations. Kobach is currently running for Kansas secretary of state and proudly bills himself on his campaign website as an attorney who “litigates against the ACLU in courts across the country.”
Kobach is also the “national expert on constitutional law” at the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), a subsidiary organization of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). IRLI and FAIR are both funded in part by the Pioneer Fund, an organization that unabashedly studies the ‘science’ of eugenics. Consequently, the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated both IRLI and FAIR “nativist hate groups”—a designation that Pearce has no qualms in dismissing.
“The Center for Poverty [sic] is the closest thing you can get to a Communist organization in America,” says Pearce. “They are absolutely a hate-based organization that hates Americans who stand up for the rule of law.” For his part, Kobach says that being labeled as a racist, a nativist or a member of any hate group is “absurd and hurtful.”
According to both Pearce and Kobach, SB 1070, Arizona’s immigration bill, was not the brainchild of IRLI or FAIR as many media reports have claimed.
“The initial first draft of the bill was done by the legislators in the Arizona legislature who were coming up with a broad template of what they wanted to achieve. I was brought in at that point to advise on what was possible and what wasn’t possible, and to refine the language to make sure it stands up in court,” says Kobach.
Indeed, most of the provisions contained in the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act had existed in one form or another in legislative sessions prior to the bill’s introduction in the Arizona legislature this year—though Kobach does claim credit for the provision which outlaws “sanctuary city” policies, previously passed by the Missouri legislature in 2008. As a matter of fact, a bill containing language very similar to the Support Our Law Enforcement Act was passed by the Arizona legislature in 2006, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Janet Napolitano. That bill, HB 2577, was the first substantive introduction of the trespassing and “breathing while brown” provisions to the Arizona legislature.
“Breathing While Brown”
All Arizona is seeking to do, says Pearce, is to enforce federal immigration policy—which he says is deliberately barred by liberal lawmakers and “loudmouth anarchist” leftist groups in so-called “sanctuary cites.”
“It’s illegal to have sanctuary policies in this state under federal law, but we have them all over this country. I mean, L.A. and San Francisco being—if you will—the poster cities of what’s wrong with America,” says Pearce. “I mean, in Arizona, the crime—number two in the world in kidnappings; the home invasions, carjackings—identity theft capitol of the nation. The killings, the maimings—we can go through the list of officers that have been killed in the city of Phoenix. In fact, in the last ten years, 87 percent of the officers killed in the city of Phoenix were killed by illegal aliens.”
To remedy this situation, the ALEC Sanctuary Cities Act model legislation and Pearce’s Arizona bill both feature anti-“sanctuary cities” provisions which prohibit any municipal, county or state policy that might hamper the ability of any government agency from complying with federal immigration law. Both bills also include sanctions aimed at those who employ illegal immigrants and tougher penalties for human smugglers.
The provision of SB 1070 which has drawn the most fire from critics across the nation is the so-called “Breathing While Brown” provision. Under this section, law enforcement personnel may arrest anyone in their presence without a warrant, provided that the officer has probable cause to believe that the arrestee has committed a crime.
While the ability of a cop to make an arrest without a warrant is nothing new, one of the new crimes a law enforcement officer may cite as grounds for arrest based on probable cause is. The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act establishes state level offenses that mirror existing federal offenses under United States Alien and Nationality Code, sections 1304(e) and 1306(a).
Section 1304(e) states, “every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt.”
Violation of this section under federal law is a misdemeanor and carries a sentence of up to 30 days incarceration.
Section 1306(a) states, “any alien required to apply for registration and to be fingerprinted in the United States who willfully fails or refuses to make such application or to be fingerprinted, and any parent or legal guardian required to apply for the registration of any alien who willfully fails or refuses to file application for the registration of such alien shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall, upon conviction thereof, be fined not to exceed $1,000 or be imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”
Once the Arizona immigration law goes into effect, any person found to be in violation of either of these federal laws in the state of Arizona—after their immigration/residency status has been determined by an agent of the federal government—will be charged with the new state crime of “willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration document,” a subsection of the state’s criminal trespass statute. These state offenses carry a maximum fine of $100, along with restitution of jail costs and up to 20 days in jail. A second or subsequent offense carries a term of up to 30 days in jail.
By creating these state-level offenses, the law essentially converts every state, county and municipal law enforcement officer into an enforcer of federal immigration law.
“Basically, you have a mandate for all of the law enforcement in Arizona to question everyone about their immigration status,” said Linton Joaquin, general counsel for the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), a group seeking a federal injunction against the law. “I think it’s inevitably going to be a matter of racial profiling. You have them determining who they have reasonable suspicion as being undocumented ... clearly one factor is race, appearance and ethnicity. You can’t separate that in practice or in reality.”
While the wording of the bill expressly prohibits racial profiling as a means of determining immigration status, Joaquin says the letter of the law will do little to dissuade enforcement through the underlying color of the law.
“[Probable cause] can be incredibly easy to find. If a person looks away, then they are ‘averting their glance.’ If they look right at you, then they’re exhibiting ‘studied nonchalance.’ We see all these terms used to create a sense that there is a basis of suspicion.”
Pearce does not agree with that assessment.
“That’s another lie. They are absolutely not worried about racial profiling. It’s the boogie man thing. It’s like with children, once they believe there’s a boogie man, they have to sleep with the light on—even though there’s no real boogie man,” said Pearce. “It’s fear mongering and they are simply intellectually dishonest.”
According to Hough, one of the differences between the final version of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act as signed into law in Arizona and the Sanctuary Cities Act, as promoted by ALEC on the floors of other state legislatures, is that the ALEC legislation carries more stringent penalties under the criminal trespass section.
Under the Sanctuary Cities Act, first offenses under the trespassing provision are still classified as a class 1 misdemeanor; however, there is no 20 to 30-day cap on incarceration as the final version of the Arizona law provides. Additionally, where the Support Our Law Enforcement Act classifies subsequent offenses as misdemeanors, the Sanctuary Cities Act classifies repeat offenses as felonies, which carry lengthier terms of incarceration.
Meet the New War, Same as the Old War
Questions of justice aside, the net effect of the Arizona law and the ALEC-modeled legislation passed in other states will be to greatly increase the numbers of undocumented aliens arrested and jailed, by effectively converting each state and county law enforcement officer into an enforcer of federal immigration law.
The immigration dragnet created by the Support Our Law Enforcement Act in Arizona and the Sanctuary Cities Act as disseminated by ALEC is a win-win situation for private prison companies, and this war on immigration is not the first time corporate-backed legislation has filled the prisons and bank accounts of entities such as CCA and GEO Group.
In the early 1990’s, while the ALEC Public Safety (then Criminal Justice) Task Force was co-chaired by CCA, another task force member and current private sector chair, the NRA, began an aggressive campaign to introduce variants of two pieces of ALEC-backed legislation at the state and federal level: the so-called “truth-in-sentencing” and “three-strikes” laws.
Truth-in-sentencing called for all violent offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release.
Three strikes called for mandatory life imprisonment for a third felony conviction. In some states this was interpreted as life imprisonment for a third violent offense conviction, while in others, such as California, the law was enacted in such a way as to include those convicted of petty offenses such as shoplifting. [PLN was the first media to report the instrumental role the NRA played in bankrolling Washington’s Three Strikes law in 1993 (the first in the nation) and Washington State’s “Hard Time for Armed Crime” initiative in 1995.]
The NRA campaign, dubbed “CrimeStrike,” headed by victim’s rights advocate and former Arizona Chief Assistant Attorney General Steve Twist, was seen by many as a reactionary strike at the Clinton administration’s gun control efforts when it moved into high gear in 1993. CrimeStrike was the campaign which set forth the precept that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” As such, CrimeStrike promoted state and federal tough-on-crime legislation and derided any lawmaker backing gun control as being “soft on crime.”
With memories of the Willie Horton disaster of the failed 1988 Michael Dukakis presidential campaign still fresh in the minds of most American legislators, this accusation invariably hit a raw nerve among Democrats and elicited kneejerk support of the laws.
While the NRA was busy pushing these laws through CrimeStrike, ALEC was pushing its agenda in Pennsylvania with the help of former Herbert-Walker Bush U.S. Attorney General William Barr and ALEC member, then-Pennsylvania governor, and future director of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge.
In 1995, the Pennsylvania legislature passed several tough-on-crime bills based on ALEC proposals and model legislation. In 2005, while serving as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, state Rep. John Perzel, an ALEC member and Pennsylvania House Majority Leader from 1995 to 2003, joined GEO Group’s board of directors.
In November 2009, Perzel resigned from the corporation’s board following an indictment handed down that same month for his alleged role in a scandal involving several of his staffers and other lawmakers charged with using taxpayer dollars to fund their campaign activities. Only days before his indictment, Perzel exercised his option as a board member to purchase 5,000 shares of GEO stock, valued at that time in excess of $100,000. According to a GEO Group statement, Perzel left on good terms with the company. [See: PLN, Sept. 2010, p.34].
Incidentally, Pennsylvania was one of the first states to introduce legislation strikingly similar to the Support Our Law Enforcement/Sanctuary Cities Acts, legislators having introduced their own “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” in May 2010.
By 1996, CrimeStrike claimed responsibility for the passage of “three strikes” laws in Washington, California, Georgia, Delaware and North Carolina, as well as truth-in-sentencing laws in Arizona, Mississippi and Virginia.
A contributing factor to the spread of truth-in-sentencing laws was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The Act provided millions of federal dollars under the Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-In-Sentencing (VOI/TIS) Incentive Grant Program to states to build new prisons or contract out beds with private corporations if the states adopted truth-in-sentencing laws for violent offenders.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, by 1998, 27 states and the District of Columbia had adopted federal truth-in-sentencing guidelines and were receiving VOI/TIS funding for corrections expansion. Eleven states had adopted versions of the “three-strikes” legislation.
Several states exceeded the VOI/TIS requirements and imposed broader sentencing guidelines, beyond the realm of violent offenses. Arizona, for example, amended its sentencing laws in a way which would require all prisoners to serve their entire sentences, except that they may be eligible for earned release credits for up to a 15 percent sentence reduction. From 1996 to 2001, Arizona received $57,923,000 in VOI/TIS grants for much-needed prison expansion and operational expenses under the state’s new sentencing guidelines.
According to the Department of Justice, the federal government disbursed $2.7 billion in VOI/TIS grants nationwide during the same five-year period to states that had adopted the guidelines. However, the program was discontinued following fiscal year 2001, leaving states with rapidly-swelling prison populations to foot the bill.
In late 2009 through the first quarter of 2010, several states which had previously espoused the “tough-on-crime” stance promoted through ALEC and CrimeStrike reconsidered and rolled back some of those tough sentencing guidelines in order to slacken the demands wrought on their budgets by overburdened criminal justice systems in the face of massive shortfalls. This, however, has not been the prevailing attitude among Arizona lawmakers—struggling with one of the most severe budgetary crises in the nation—who have stuck by their guns and, instead of revisiting sentencing guidelines, opened nearly their entire prison system to operation by private corrections contractors.
Gov. Brewer signed the Criminal Justice Budget Reconciliation Act (Criminal Justice Act) into law in September 2009. The law required the state to issue requests for proposals (RFPs) for the private operation of up to nine of the state’s 10 prison complexes. This provision of the Criminal Justice Act was quietly repealed by the legislature in March 2010, due primarily to lawmaker concerns that private prison companies were not equipped to handle maximum security facilities. However, the Criminal Justice Act also required the Arizona Department of Corrections to issue RFPs for 5,000 new private medium to minimum-security beds. [Ed. Note: The RFPs for 5,000 additional private prison beds were cancelled by the Department of Corrections in September 2010, though they will be reissued; see: PLN, Sept. 2010, p.42].
The bid for privatization in Arizona was unprecedented. The only other instances of a state legislature even considering opening the state’s entire prison system to private contractors were the Corrections Corporation of America’s failed bids in the mid-80’s and mid-90’s to take over the entire prison system in its home state of Tennessee. During the second bid, CCA projected an additional $100 million annually in state revenues as a result of privatization. Upon review, however, the Tennessee legislature realized that the projections were far from accurate. Interestingly enough, the same $100 million figure was cited by the Arizona state legislature in the Criminal Justice Budget Reconciliation Act—the primary engines of which were Senate President and Arizona State ALEC Chair Bob Burns, as well as Senator Pearce.
Shower in the Desert: It’s Raining Money
Over the past decade, the private prison industry has increasingly shifted its attention to the burgeoning fields of undocumented and criminal alien detention.
For example, from January 2008 to April 2010, CCA spent $4.4 million lobbying the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee, the Office of Budget Management, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and both houses of Congress. Of the 43 lobbying disclosure reports filed by CCA during this period, only five do not expressly state intent to monitor or influence immigration reform policy or gain Homeland Security or ICE appropriations.
To illustrate the lucrative payoff this activity has had for CCA, the private jailer reported $1.7 billion in gross revenue for 2009, attributing about 40 percent of this business to its federal clients ICE, the BOP and the U.S. Marshals Service, all of which house immigrant detainee populations.
And, according to the story the numbers tell, it is easy to see why the private prison industry is eager to expand its stake in the immigrant detainee market. According to ICE Public Affairs Officer Gillian Brigham, in fiscal year 2009, ICE detained 383,524 individuals with an average daily prisoner population of 32,098 spread across the nation’s 270 immigrant detention centers.
Due to the rising numbers of immigrant detentions in recent years, coupled with the rising tide of economic shortfalls at both the state and federal level (ICE reported a $140 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2010), ICE has farmed the operations of many of these facilities out to either county operators under inter-governmental service agreements or to private prison contractors that operate the facilities on a per diem, per inmate basis.
Currently, according to Brigham, seven of these facilities are “contract detention facilities” (CDFs) owned and operated by either CCA or GEO Group. However, says Brigham, there are several types of facilities utilized by ICE for immigrant detention which may be operated by private contractors, including facilities such as county or state-owned jails and prisons contracted out by ICE under “inter-government service agreements” (IGSAs), or other “service processing centers,” which are facilities operated by both federal and private detention staff.
An example of one of these IGSA facilities would be the nation’s largest immigrant detention “tent city” facility, the Willacy County Processing Center in Raymondville, TX. This prison, though owned by the county, is operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a private prison firm based in Utah.
Willacy County’s “tent city” facility, consisting of several massive dome-like structures near the Gulf of Mexico, has the capacity to warehouse in excess of 3,000 immigrant detainees awaiting deportation at any given time. [See: PLN, Sept. 2007, p.1].
Unfortunately, according to Brigham, ICE does not keep tabs on who is operating these detention centers at the state or county levels through IGSAs, so it is difficult to assess how many of those prisons are run by private firms.
However, as an indication of what they see to be bountiful times to come, GEO Group and CCA report plans to expand operations or fill thousands of existing immigrant detention bed “inventory surpluses” in Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan and South Carolina in response to what the corporations refer to as “organic growth opportunities,” chief of which is an anticipated increase in immigrant detentions, coupled with the increased inability of the federal and state governments to meet detention needs due to budgetary constraints.
In May 2010, during the GEO Group’s first quarter investor conference call, an investor asked GEO CEO George Zoley what impact Arizona’s immigration law might have on business.
Zoley responded with levity: “What, they have some new legislation? I never heard about it. I think I’m increasingly convinced of their need for 5,000 new beds.”
Wayne Calabrese, GEO Group’s vice chair and chief operating officer, offered a more straightforward appraisal.
“I can only believe that the opportunities at the federal level are going to continue at pace as a result of what’s happening. I think people understand there is still a relatively low threshold of tolerance for people coming across the border and those laws not being enforced,” said Calabrese. “And that to me at least suggests there are going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do.”
The Ties that Bind
Whether or not private prison companies influenced the drafting of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act during the month that ALEC’s Public Safety Task Force had to review the bill prior to its introduction to the Arizona legislature may be a moot point.
The private corrections/immigrant detention industry has had ample opportunity—and obvious intent—in recent years to influence the drafting of and smooth the way toward passage of this and similar legislation.
According to Pearce, Kobach and Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman, the Support Our Law Enforcement Act went through a lengthy edit and review process from the months before its introduction at the legislature to the day it was signed by the Governor. This review process—aside from the numerous hearings held in both houses of the state legislature—took place predominantly within the office of the Maricopa County Attorney and in the office of Governor Brewer.
A little over a week after Pearce introduced the Support Our Law Enforcement Act on the floor of the state Senate as SB 1070, CCA enlisted Highground Consulting, one of the most influential lobbying firms in Phoenix, to represent its interests in the state.
Lobby disclosure forms filed with the Arizona Secretary of State indicate that Maricopa County also employed the consulting firm during the time of the bill’s formation.
Highground’s influence extends into Governor Brewer’s office. The firm’s owner and principal is Charles “Chuck” Coughlin, Brewer’s top advisor and campaign manager.
In addition to Coughlin, CCA has further ties to the office of the Governor. State lobby reports reveal that Gov. Brewer’s current spokesman, Senseman, had been lobbying Arizona lawmakers as CCA’s chief lobbyist in the state as an employee of Policy Development Group, Inc., yet another influential Phoenix consulting firm, from 2005 to late 2008. Senseman was appointed as Brewer’s spokesman in January 2009—fresh off the job with CCA. Senseman’s wife, Kathryn, remains employed by Policy Development Group, which still lobbies the state on behalf of CCA.
So, in 2005 and 2006, while Arizona lawmakers—many of them ALEC members—were drafting provisions of what would eventually become the “Breathing While Brown” law (incorporated in HB 2577), Governor Brewer’s current director of communications was lobbying on behalf of the largest private prison company and operator of immigrant detention facilities in the nation.
Additionally, Brewer’s Chief Policy Advisor, Richard Bark—a man mentioned by Senseman, Pearce and Kobach as being directly involved in the drafting of the Support Our Law Enforcement Act—remains listed with the Office of the Secretary of State as an active lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). CCA is a “board level” member of ACCI and is the top employer in Pinal County, located just south of Maricopa County, where CCA operates five detention facilities for both state prisoners and immigrant detainees.
Meanwhile, GEO Group employs Public Policy Partners, a consulting firm which, like Highground, also provides consultation and lobbying services to Maricopa County.
While Public Policy Partners, an Arizona-based company, has over 30 clients in the state, it is worth noting that the firm has only two clients at the federal level: GEO Group (based in Florida) and Ron Sachs Communications, a Florida-based public relations firm which, according to lobby records, promotes issues related to prison privatization. Public Policy Partners, as a firm, also appears to be an advocate for expanded use of private prisons.
Federal lobby records from the first quarter of 2010 show Public Policy Partners’ owner, John Kaites, lobbying on behalf of the firm on issues pertaining to “private correctional detention management.”
CCA has also shown special interest in Arizona through several recent choices in its corporate structuring.
In 2007, CCA hired Brad Regens as “vice president of state partnership relations” for the purpose of cultivating new contracts in Arizona and California. In the two years immediately prior to his employment at CCA, Regens had worked in the Arizona House of Representatives as director of fiscal policy. Before his appointment as director of fiscal policy, Regens spent nine years working in the Arizona legislature in various roles, including assistant director of the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
Further, after hiring Regens, CCA elected former U.S. Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini to its board of directors in February 2008.
Since this article’s initial publication in the July 2010 issue of In These Times, several developments have unfolded in the case of Arizona’s controversial “Breathing While Brown” law.
On July 6, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a challenge to the constitutionality of SB 1070 in the U.S. District Court for Arizona. The DOJ’s primary assertion, as stated in a press release, was that the law “unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy.” As such, the DOJ urged the court to issue an injunction before the law, through its implementation, caused “irreparable harm” to the functions of both local and federal law enforcement and immigration efforts.
Numerous chiefs of Arizona law enforcement agencies submitted briefs in support of the DOJ challenge, stating that SB 1070 would cause undue burden on their officers and hamper their ability to perform their jobs by alienating a significant portion of the communities they serve. A Tucson police officer, Martin Escobar, had filed a separate lawsuit in April 2010 challenging SB 1070, claiming that he could be held liable for violating people’s civil rights if he was required to enforce the law. His suit was eventually dismissed due to lack of standing.
On July 28, the day before SB 1070 was set to take effect, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued a temporary injunction in the DOJ’s suit, suspending several of the statute’s more controversial provisions, among them the requirement that law enforcement officers check an individual’s immigration status if they are suspected of being in the country illegally. See: United States v. State of Arizona, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:10-cv-01413-NVW.
On September 2, 2010, the DOJ filed another federal lawsuit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his agency, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), to gain access to documents that Arpaio repeatedly failed to produce. The DOJ had requested records detailing how, or if, federal funds received by MSCO had been used to further alleged discriminatory policing practices that targeted Hispanics—such as racial profiling and discrimination against jail prisoners.
According to the complaint in that suit, the DOJ had been seeking Arpaio’s cooperation since March 2009. Ironically, given the fact that “the federal government has failed us!” is the rallying cry of Arizona lawmakers backing SB 1070 and other “tough-on-immigration” policies, the DOJ’s complaint states that Maricopa County (and through it, MCSO) had received nearly $16 million in federal law enforcement and border security grants in 2009 alone.
Where that money went, Sheriff Arpaio won’t say—at least not without a court fight. According to pleadings in the case filed in late September 2010, MCSO denied withholding records from DOJ investigators. Yet according to DOJ documents, MCSO wrote the department as recently as August 27, stating it refused to cooperate fully with the federal investigation. The suit remains pending. See: United States v. Maricopa County, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:10-cv-01878-GMS.
In regard to the private prison industry connection to SB 1070, it has been learned that private prison executives turned out their checkbooks to show their appreciation to Arizona House Speaker and SB 1070 sponsor Kirk Adams. According to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, GEO Group founder and CEO George Zoley, along with GEO President and Chief Operating Officer Wayne Calabrese, his wife Rhonda Calabrese and GEO Senior Vice President John Hurley, all wrote checks to Rep. Adams for $410 (the maximum contribution allowed under state law) on the same day in December 2009.
An abbreviated version of this article was first published by In These Times; this expanded and updated version is reprinted with permission from the author.
Related legal cases
United States v. State of Arizona
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:10-cv-01413-NVW|
United States v. Maricopa County
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:10-cv-01878-GMS|