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Prison companies’ profit motive sheds new light on Arizona’s immigration law

For months after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed off on the draconian immigration law, SB1070, protestors raged about the repercussions of a law that made it mandatory for police to stop and check the papers of anyone that they deemed “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. Human rights activists protested the inevitable implication of racial profiling that the law brought with it, while supporters of the law argued that it would be an effective solution to the immigration issue. When analyzing how the law came to be, the progressive media went to great lengths to highlight the direct links between those who drafted the law and “hate” groups the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FIRM) and white supremacist organizations. In all this, little was said about how the law came about in the first place.

A breaking investigation conducted by NPR and released today reveals that there is a more insidious motive behind the drafting of the Arizona law; one that leaves passionate rhetoric behind and focuses purely on profit. Based on the analysis of hundreds of thousands of campaign finance reports of people like Senator Russell Pearce, the legislator that was responsible for introducing SB1070 before the House of Representatives, as well as the corporate records of numerous prison companies, NPR has found deep financial ties between the drafting and introduction of the bill, and the private prison industry, that stands to benefit millions of dollars from increased immigrant detention.

The NPR investigation found that the seeds of the immigration bill were sown at a meeting of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a semi-secret group that comprises of state legislators like Pearce, as well as the heads of big private corporations such as ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association, and billion dollar companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the United States. All of the 50 members present for the meeting in December, 2009 where Pearce first presented his idea for SB1070, voted to support it, and the exact “model bill” that he presented at the meeting became the law that Jan Brewer passed in April, 2010.

Once SB1070 was introduced in the House in January by Senator Pearce, it was backed by thirty six sponsors, most of whom had been present at the December meeting of ALEC. Almost immediately, thirty of the thirty-six sponsors received generous donations from all the big private prison companies, GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, and Management and Training Corporation. Further, it was clear that, if executed, this law would be hugely profitable for the prison companies. The records of CCA showed that prison executives were relying on immigration detention as their next big market.

Ties between the massive expansion of immigrant detention and the subsequent growth and profit for the largely privately run prison system are not new. What is even more disturbing is the concrete evidence that points to the lack of accountability that comes with this prison system that is increasingly dysfunctional, as well as a detention system that denies due process and fairness to hundreds of men, women and children.

Advocate groups such as the NDLON have called for a further investigation into the collaboration between private corporations and conservative politicians. Pablo Alvarado, the Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network released a statement today saying-

We have done much to confront the hate within the recent immigration debate…but what this report brings to light is that behind the odious rhetoric there are corporations cashing in…These corporations and the politicians they fund are less concerned with borders than they are profit margins. We call on Russell Pearce to fully disclose his ties with those who may benefit financially from his initiatives and we ask that a deeper investigation be launched into the private interests gaining from the human rights crisis in Arizona.

Photo courtesy of npr.org

On Cinco de Mayo, we have music and games in support of Arizona’s immigrants

By the time I get to Arizona…By the time I get to Arizona….

What happens if you get to Arizona and you are stopped by the cops there and you don’t have any ID on you? Once the new anti-immigrant law, SB1070, comes into effect, its likely you will be detained. DJ Spooky and Public Enemy’s Chuck D think that’s ridiculous and take a stab at what that might be like. Both of them felt strongly about the ways in which such a law engenders racism and decided to rework the classic Public Enemy protest song, “By the Time I Get to Arizona”, originally written to protest the Arizona state government’s 1993 decision not to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This time around, the lyrics reflect their discontent at “those who don’t learn from the past with DJ Spooky seeing it as a “21st century look in the rear view mirror”. Check out the catchy tune.

Chuck D and his wife Theresa aren’t far behind. The rapper condemns the architect of the law Russell Pearce, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona State Senate for supporting a law that he calls “racist and deceitful.” Chuck D, known for his socially and politically-conscious style of rapping and for trying to bridge the racial gap between “black and brown” makes-

a call to action urging fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, academics and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants.

He also calls on the world of sports to “speak up in defense of our brothers and sisters being victimized in Arizona, because things are only getting worse.” And the world of sports, a space that often stays well away from politics, has spoken, with players, sports associations and teams calling the law unjust. A number of Major League Baseball (MLB) players have taken a stand against Arizona’s new law, calling it an “immoral” violation of human rights. On Cinco de Mayo, the NBA team, the Phoenix Sons, made a statement against SB1070 by wearing special jerseys that had their team name written in Spanish, “Los Suns”, for a big game against the San Antonio Spurs. The jerseys, usually reserved for a once a year occasion on the NBA’s “Noche Latina” program were worn to make a political statement.

In announcing the Suns would wear their Spanish jerseys for Game 2 against the San Antonio Spurs — which falls on the Mexican holiday known as Cinco de Mayo — Suns owner Robert Sarver went out of his way to knock Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law known as Senate Bill 1070.

The young Latina pop sensation Shakira, who has met with White House officials to talk about immigration issues and even got an exclusive meeting with President Obama to lobby for children’s education, was quick to fly to Phoenix to offer her support to Latino families that were suddenly fearful for themselves after the passage of SB1070. In an emotional and heartfelt piece in the Huff Post, she writes-

To the rest of the world, the United States represents the dream of a better life based on justice and freedom for everyone — no matter the color of your skin. This law goes against those values and against the principles of every American I know…This law not only hurts the whole state of Arizona but the fundamental core values of America, the fabric of society itself. The true victory of a democratic nation is when its people can walk the streets without fear… This law won’t bring safety or protect America; it will cause chaos. It won’t create unity; it will create division.

Her words found resonance in Nobel Peace prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who expressed his deep sadness at the passage of the Arizona law that targets immigrants. Recognizing the fact that Arizona suffers from a broken immigration system he said-

A solution that fails to distinguish between a young child coming over the border in search of his mother and a drug smuggler is not a solution…An immigrant who is charged with the crime of trespassing for simply being in a community without his papers on him is being told he is committing a crime by simply being…These are the seeds of resentment, hostilities and in extreme cases, conflict…With the eyes of the world now on them, Arizona has the opportunity to create a new model for dealing with the pitfalls, and help the nation as a whole find its way through the problems of illegal immigration. But to work, it must be a model that is based on a deep respect for the essential human rights Americans themselves have grown up enjoying.

Let’s hope that all these efforts in the name of dignity, human rights, equality and peace do not fall on deaf ears. Write to President Obama and let him know the need for immigration reform now.

Photo courtesy of cbsnews.com

How much “hate” lies behind SB1070?

Despite what supporters say about SB1070′s merits, it is impossible to ignore it’s blatant inclusion of measures that mandate local law enforcement to stop and question people whom they think are “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, thereby mandating racial profiling. When Arizona’s Governor Brewer was asked, “what does an undocumented person look like”, she couldn’t answer. When SB1070 co-sponsor Senator Huppenthal was asked, “what constitutes reasonable suspicion” he couldn’t answer. Some like Senator Bilbray believe that trained officers can identify undocumented people based on their clothes and shoes! For real proof, all we need to do is look towards federal immigration programs that give local police the power to enforce federal immigration law such as the 287(g) and Secure Communities to see the increase in racial profiling, with the majority of those caught guilty of either minor crimes or even U.S. citizens.

They say that the best way to understand something is to understand how it came to be. A deeper look at the people behind SB1070 throws a disturbing light on the how it came to be passed. For one, the man responsible for introducing the bill Senator Pearce has a long history with White Supremacist organizations, and is infamous for sending extreme white nationalist comments to his supporters in which he attacked the media for portraying -

A world in which every voice proclaims the equality of the races, the inerrant nature of the Jewish ‘Holocaust’ tale, the wickedness of attempting to halt the flood of non-White aliens pouring across our borders…

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow takes us one step further. The bill was created by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, one of the most active anti-immigration organizations in the country identified as a bonafide “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center after its founder John Tanton warned of a “Latin onslaught” and talked about Latinos’ “low educability”. A small taste of his views on immigration.

To govern is to populate….will the present majority peaceably hand over it’s political power to a group that is simply more fertile?…as whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?…I come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist, requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.

There’s also Kris Kobach, an attorney who works for IRLI and by association FAIR who is the main author of SB1070. While Kobach does not have overt ties with racist groups, his track record is also quite alarming. After serving as Attorney General John Ashcroft’s main immigration adviser, Kobach was responsible for drafting a number of laws that persecuted those who assisted undocumented immigrants. Following that he initiated a post 9/11 program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, that called for the monitoring of men from Arab and Muslim countries, even those who were legal residents. This program was suspended on allegations of racial profiling. Since then Kobach has become somewhat of an expert on anti-immigrant policies and has become a close aid of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Arpaio, who has hired him to train police officers in procedures in arresting suspected undocumented immigrants.

Rachel Maddow sums it all up concisely.

But no one is taking this lying down.  The ACLU, MALDEF and NILC have officially filed a legal challenge to SB1070, even as several states have shown an interest in copycat bills. Large-scale protests have occurred in Arizona and across the country protesting the bill, along with grassroots educations programs that are educating the people of Arizona on how to understand and deal with the law, if it were to come into effect. City councils like San Francisco and Washington D.C. are in talks about boycotting the state of Arizona as a sign of protest against the unconstitutional law. Government officials and police officers have come out against the bill, like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who has called the law “disgusting,””unnecessary” and “stupid.” A police officer who has served for 52 years, Dupnik refuses to enforce the law which he says is “one of the worst pieces of legislation he has ever seen.” He goes on to make the point that since there is no effective way to enforce SB1070 that does not involve racial profiling, his department could be sued for racial profiling if they enforce the law, and sued if they don’t (SB1070 allows any one to sue local departments that they believe are not effectively enforcing the law). Calling it “racist” he says-

If I tell my people to go out and look for A, B, and C, they’re going to do it. They’ll find some flimsy excuse like a tail light that’s not working as a basis for a stop, which is a bunch of baloney.

More and more people need to understand the consequences of SB1070 as an affront to liberty, equality and justice to stall the work of hate groups an thwart the white nationalist agenda. Take action now!

Photo courtesy of msnbc.msn.com

Sponsor of SB1070 doesn’t understand it. The Daily Show does (and doesn’t like it).

Three simple images. Dora, Eric from Chips, and a serial killer. Now guess – who looks “reasonably suspicious” of not having papers and therefore should be stopped and questioned by the Arizona police as per it’s new law, SB1070?

That’s the question Daily Show host Jon Stewart asked on the show last night, referencing the images above. Calling out the “draconian new immigration law” for being an affront to democracy by requiring people to carry their documents on them, he likened it to a time in the pre-civil rights era when newly freed black slaves were required to carry IDs. Jokes apart, the staged sketch gave us a little taste of what life could be like if SB1070 was, in fact, enforced in Arizona. It was the same question posed to Governor Jan Brewer, when signing the bill into law, to which she replied, “I don’t know what an undocumented immigrant looks like?”

Confusion around the bill is rife. In an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, co-sponsor of the bill Senator Huppenthal agreed that it would be racial profiling were officers to check the status of someone based on “reasonable suspicion”, thereby going against the statute of the bill that he signed into law. About 8 mins. into the clip, Chris Matthews asks Senator Huppenthal -

Under the law you passed and was signed by the governor this week, can a police officer who spots a car with five or six people in it, who he thinks because of instinct, experience, whatever, evidence, whatever you use— can he stop that car and say, I think these people are here illegally, I‘m going to stop and check them?  Can he under the law do that, without any crime involved?  Can he do that?

After hedging the question, Senator Huppenthal answered-

You know, the racial profiling was illegal before this bill. It‘s illegal after it.  The bill itself makes it illegal…No, he cannot.  That would be – that would just simply be racial profiling, and that would not be permitted under the law.

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Since its passage, civil rights groups, advocacy groups and President Obama have critiqued SB1070 for practically mandating racial profiling and violating fundamental notions of fairness. Clearly, when its co-sponsors cannot articulate its impact, then its effects will be even more adverse. These are already being felt on Arizona’s economy and tourism as calls for an economic boycott come to light, even as Governor Brewer continues to deny any wrongdoing. Meanwhile Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has taken a strong opposition stand to what he considers an unconstitutional and unenforceable law, including approaching the Phoenix City Council to give their support to a lawsuit filed by the city of Phoenix to prevent the laws implementation because of its effects on civil rights and costs associated with its wrongdoings.

SB1070 is going to have ripple effects. For the state of Arizona, for its potential copycat effect across the nation, and for the ideals of equality and justice. Take action now and stop this dangerous law from being implemented.

Arizona’s SB1070 cannot answer what an undocumented immigrant looks like?

After days of protests, petitions and phone calls, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 – Arizona’s anti-immigrant and racist bill – into law. The news has hit hard as fears around racial profiling and civil rights violations become paramount. SB1070 gives police officers the powers to stop, detain and arrest anyone they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is undocumented. It also allows people to be charged with harboring and transporting undocumented immigrants (which means if you have an undocumented immigrant with you in the car or at home, you could very well be in trouble) as well as gives police the power to arrest day laborers and those who hire them.

In what many consider a move to save her political career, the Governor was adamant in stating that under no circumstances would the state of Arizona tolerate racial profiling or discrimination. The law prohibits race or ethnicity from being the only factor in assuming someone is undocumented, but allows for it to be one factor among others. The Governor is also issuing an Executive Order that will give police officers additional training in the law to prevent racial profiling. But when asked what does an undocumented person look like, the Governor replied, “I don’t know what an undocumented person looks like”. So the question remains – how will the police know what they look like and what exactly will amount to “reasonable suspicion”. Even more telling was the Governor’s statement that “we have to trust the police” and that “people across the country are watching Arizona” and so it is important to “prove the alarmists wrong”.

Who constitutes these alarmists? A range of folks including police associations, faith based groups, immigration right leaders, and leading civil rights groups. Of these, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund have come together to denounce the bill, calling it out for making racial profiling the standard and undermining effective community policing by creating distrust between law enforcement and communities of color. Former police chief and founder of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative has called it “a catastrophe for community policing, with repercussions that will be felt by law enforcement officials across the country.” Even President Obama critiqued the bill for being “misguided” and “irresponsible” at a naturalization ceremony for the armed forces, stating-

The recent efforts in Arizona…threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. In fact, I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation.

MALDEF has already indicated it will challenge the constitutionality of the law and is confident that it will be overturned as it invades the federal realm of immigration and violates equal protection and due process clauses. It is likely the law may never be instituted if that happens, but not until it costs the state of Arizona a pretty penny to defend. A groundswell of opposition at a grassroots level is growing exponentially, and throughout the weekend, events and rallies are expected to turnout out thousands of people across the state.

This act of political symbolism is dangerous to the ideals of America and is likely to have a copycat effect across the country. Even with its eventual defeat, its repercussions will remain for time to come.

Photo courtesy of flickr ri4a.

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John McCain betrays the immigration movement

How exactly does a leopard change his spots? Ask Senator John McCain. When asked about SB 1070, Arizona’s new anti-immigration bill and one of the harshest affronts to civil liberty and racial equality in recent memory, the previously pro-immigration Senator endorsed the legislation calling it a “good tool” and “an important step forward”. He went on to say the bill was a “commentary on the frustration of the state legislature” with the federal government and its inaction on the issue of immigration, and added that he understood the reasoning behind it. Back in 2004, the very same John McCain had spoken up in opposition to a ballot measure in Arizona which denied undocumented immigrants some public services, referring to it during a campaign for re-election to the Senate saying-

Things are terrible, and we’ve got to fix it…But we’re not going to fix it until we have comprehensive immigration reform…When there’s a demand, there’s going to be a supply. There are jobs that Americans will not do, so we have to make it possible for someone to come to this country to do a job that an American won’t do and then go back to the country from where they came.

From 2004 to 2007, Senator McCain worked closely with Senator Kennedy and immigration advocates to fight for comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that was as controversial back then as it is now. During that time, although he faced a lot of opposition for his stance on immigration reform from within the Republican party, he stood firm, denouncing a similar measure to SB 1070 approved by the House of Representatives as “anti-Hispanic.” In 2006, referring to his unpopularity within his party over the issue of immigration, Senator McCain noted

They tell me my poll rate has plummeted over this, but I’m a big boy, I can take it.

Today, his convictions seem to be completely at the mercy of his election opponent, former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who is staunchly anti-immigration. Speaking on the O’Reilly Factor on Tuesday night, Senator McCain offered a weak defense of the bill that directs police officers to stop anyone whom they suspect is undocumented, mandating racial profiling. When asked about the racial profiling angle, Senator McCain said that while he would be “very sorry” if that happened, the bill itself was justified by the-

…the people whose homes and property are being violated…The drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway…Look, our border is not secured. Our citizens are not safe.

Reneging on what has been one of his signature bipartisan issues in the past, Senator McCain’s position highlights one thing very clearly – while Sb 1070 will deeply impact the rights, dignity and safety of everyone in Arizona, decisions about it are based on political gamesmanship rather than on what is best for the residents of the State. In an article in the Huffington Post, veteran immigration advocate Frank Sharry expresses his deepest sadness that Senator McCain of all people, is supporting a bill that is “a civil rights retreat of historic proportions”.

Many groups are calling on the federal Government to intervene by overturning SB 1070 and asserting their authority to enforce immigration law. Condemning the bill for making racial profiling the norm, they point to its propensity to interfere with the ability of law enforcement to engage in its primary mission which is to protect and serve the community it works in.

In the wake of seemingly petty political charades, it is important to remember that views such as Senator McCain’s are being countered by law enforcement (Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police), faith-based groups and immigrant rights advocates that are working hard to condemn and protest the bill. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has received 11,931 calls, emails and faxes asking her to veto the bill, compared to only 1,356 in favor of it. Nine students protesting the bill through chanting and banging drums outside the Capitol were arrested “on suspicion of disorderly conduct” as 83,000 signatures against the bill were delivered to Governor Brewer’s office.

Make your voice heard and write to Governor Brewer today.

Tension mounts as Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill awaits its fate

Tension builds about the fate of SB 1070, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant legislation, that awaits being signed into law or being vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer today.

Advocacy groups in Arizona have mobilized to put pressure on Governor Brewer to veto the dangerous and unconstitutional bill. Last night, a group of people held an overnight vigil outside the Governor’s office. Today, a press conference will be held outside the Governor’s office where 50,000 petitions protesting the bill will be delivered. More actions drawing attention to the inhumane nature of legislation will continue through the week including rallies, prayer vigils and press conferences. Faith-based groups around the country have joined civil rights groups in condemning the bill, like Cardinal Mahony, head of L.A.’s Catholic Archdiocese, who likened the bill to techniques used by Nazis that compelled people to turn each other in.

The Arizona legislature just passed the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law. The tragedy of the law is its totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.

Meanwhile, Governor Brewer succumbed to phone calls ringing off the hook and released a non-committal statement about SB 1070, stating that she would review the legislation over the next couple of days and make an informed decision about the constitutionality of the bill based on the advice of her staff and experts. Speaking at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Black and White Ball on Saturday, she said-

In regards to Senate Bill 1070, I will tell you that I never make comment, like most governor’s throughout our country, before a bill reaches my desk. But I hear you, and I will assure you that I will do what I believe is the right thing so that everyone is treated fairly.

Amongst those who support the bill is Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070, who has defended it against accusations of racial profiling saying, “That’s the biggest myth in the world…Illegal is a crime. It’s not a race.” A New York Times article that explores how he came to be the author of one of the most racist and regressive pieces of legislation in recent years talks about his own history with immigration – In 2004, his son, a Sheriff’s Deputy in Maricopa County, was shot and wounded by an undocumented immigrant, and 20 years ago, Pearce himself, also a Sheriff’s Deputy, was also shot and wounded while arresting gang members.

While it might come as a surprise to most of us that all but one Republican in the Arizona Senate supported the bill (all the Democrats opposed it), it is clear that many opinions around the bill are being shaped by upcoming election mania. Most shocking is Senator John McCain’s about turn, for someone one who supported comprehensive immigration reform with Senator Ted Kennedy four years ago, he  has  given overt support to SB 1070, which he thinks will be a “good tool” and “a very important step forward. His office later said his comments did not represent an endorsement, but did not deny his support to the bill either.

When the fate of the country rests in the hands of politicians who can only see as far as the next election, we can only hope that the courageous voices that are constantly fighting for equality, justice and human rights, are not ignored. Take action and tell Governor Brewer that vetoing SB 1070 is the only option.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com