NPR has an extraordinary scoop on the birth of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 illegal immigration law:
Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.
Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.
"The gentleman that’s the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger," Nichols said. "He’s a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman."
What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.
"They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community," Nichols said, "the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate."
But Nichols wasn’t buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?
"They talked like they didn’t have any doubt they could fill it," Nichols said.
That’s 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.
Turns out, the bill was written by a mixed group of politicians and lobbyists involved in the group ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization which represents a number of big players in industry, from Reynolds American Inc to the Corrections Corporation of America.
As soon as Pearce’s bill hit the Arizona statehouse floor in January, there were signs of ALEC’s influence. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped on, a number almost unheard of in the capitol. According to records obtained by NPR, two-thirds of them either went to that December meeting or are ALEC members.
That same week, the Corrections Corporation of America hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the capitol.
The prison company declined requests for an interview. In a statement, a spokesman said the Corrections Corporation of America, "unequivocally has not at any time lobbied — nor have we had any outside consultants lobby – on immigration law."
At the state Capitol, campaign donations started to appear.
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.
By April, the bill was on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.
Read the whole thing. This is not merely an example of corporate greed or government overreach – but rather an example of how the two work together in order to increase both profits for private industry and increase the power and scope of the state. We call that crony-capitalism – and in this case it’s especially dangerous to civil liberties, not just because private industry is writing laws that will enrich them, but because this is a matter of actual flesh and blood freedom. We should not create profit incentives for crime-fighting, incarceration or illegal immigration.
The terrible irony is that this strong prison lobby will never push for real immigration reform and will in fact actively work against it because illegal immigration, just like illegal drugs, will benefit the prison industry to the tune of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars – which is, for lack of a better word, disgraceful. SB 1070, far from representing a positive step to reform our immigration system, represents the first move* in a War on Immigrants. And anyone who has studied our other wars – on drugs, terror, poverty, etc. should realize that once that has begun, it will never end.
*Or at least the first move in the current debate, “the shot heard round the world” as a friend described it to me.