Friday, October 29, 2010

Private prison industry played role in crafting Arizona immigration law

Arizona's controversial immigration law was pushed along behind the scenes from one group that stood to benefit heavily from its passage: the private prison industry, National Public Radio reports. Benson, Ariz., City Manager Glenn Nichols remembers two men showing up in his town with an ambitious plan to build a prison to house only illegal immigrant women and children, but Nichols said he couldn't understand how the men planned to stock such a prison. The men were confident they would have no problem finding prisoners, "because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona's immigration law," Laura Sullivan of NPR reports.

"NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records," Sullivan writes. "What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry." The private prison industry stands to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in profits if the law withstands court battles and sends thousands of illegal immigrants to prison that wouldn't have been there without it. Arizona Republican State Sen. Russell Pearce maintains the bill was his idea, telling Sullivan it is about what is best for the country not private prisons.

Two sources present for the drafting of the bill said officials from the private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, were included in the approximately 50 people there. Pearce said CCA officials had been coming to meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, where the bill was drafted for years. NPR's review of CCA reports show the company believed immigrant detention is its next big market, writing last year that CCA expected to bring in "a significant portion of our revenues" from Immigration and Customs Enforcement

ALEC is a "membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association," Sullivan writes, noting nothing about it is illegal. Michael Hough, who was staff director of the meeting, said it wasn't unusual for private companies to get to write model bills for legislators. "Yeah, that's the way it's set up," he told Sullivan. "It's a public-private partnership. We believe both sides, businesses and lawmakers should be at the same table, together." (Read more)

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