Despite the compassionate tone on immigration during the presidential campaign, the federal government continues to prosecute and incarcerate undocumented immigrants not for violent or property offenses, but simply for entering the United States. A September 2012 report from Austin, Texas-based Grassroots Leadership cites the millions of dollars spent on lobbying efforts and campaign contributions by the private prison industry as a leading cause.
Since 2005, when the Bush Administration launched Operation Streamline, which requires all undocumented border-crossers to be criminally-charged with unlawful entry or re-entry. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group - the two largest for-profit companies in the U.S. imprisoning undocumented immigrants - have seen their annual federal revenues increase by a combined $780 million. With the Obama Administration’s continuation of Streamline, CCA was paid $744 million and GEO was paid $640 million by the feds in FY 2011 alone.
According to Grassroots Leadership, contracts for Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons, which currently hold about 25,000 immigrant prisoners each, are driving those revenues.
"The terms of CAR contracts include incentives—and sometimes guarantees—to fill facilities near capacity with immigrant prisoners,"' the report said.
A CAR contract granted to CCA in October 2011 Grassroots Leadership said, stipulated that the "government will be required to furnish at least the established minimum quantity of 90% of the accepted number of contract beds for each contract year." That contract will pay CCA more than $400 million over the next 10 years.
Overall, the report said, the federal government has spent about $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants for unlawful entry since 2005. In 2011, the feds committed $1.02 billion on the incarceration costs for "simple migration crimes," which is the first time that figure has ever surpassed $1 billion.
CAR prisons, the report added, don't incarcerate immigrants at appropriate security levels, nor do they "attend to family and medical considerations." Because the federal Bureau of Prisons denies immigrants even the possibility of minimum-security incarceration "as a matter of principle," immigrants are forced into conditions that are far more severe than those endured by U.S. citizens convicted of low-level offenses.
Grassroots Leadership also found that in Laredo, Texas—one of the busiest crossings on the Mexican border—"Operation Streamline" has created such a volume of criminal defendants that a federal public defender "must provide counsel to 20 to 75 clients in a span of just two hours," leaving each defendant as little as two minutes to meet with an attorney. The report also said that, rather than increased border enforcement and criminal prosecutions, decreased migration figures for the past few years are due to the U.S.'s sluggish economy, as indicated by a range of academic and policy research.
To hack-up that assertion, the report quoted U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel, who said at a Nov. 21, 2011 hearing in the Western District of Texas: "This court has yet to find an adequate sentence that will act as a deterrent for those reentering the country illegally."
With President Obama promising to deliver immigration reform in his second term, Grassroots Leadership said it expects intense lobbying efforts against it. Corporations like CCA and GEO Group, according to the report, "will not profit from true immigration reform but stand to gain a great deal from harsher immigration laws and stronger sentencing, even at the expense of tax dollars and immigrant health and safety."
Source: "Operation Streamline: Costs and Consequences," Grassroots Leadership, September 2012; www.grassrootsleadership.org
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