Texas immigration advocates (including my organization, Grassroots Leadership) have joined a national effort to "Expose and Close" some of the nation's worst immigrant detention facilities. As part of that effort, two private detention centers in Texas - the Community Education Center's Polk County Detention Center and Corrections Corporation of America's Houston Processing Center - have come under fire for a range of human rights violations. From the organization's press release:
"Today, two Texas organizations released reports detailing inhumane conditions at two privately operated immigrant detention centers in Texas. Texas has more immigrant detention beds than any other state. President Obama made promises to reform the immigration detention system in 2009, however, the reality on the ground has not changed. Immigrants in detention continue to be denied basic needs, such as contact with lawyers and loved ones, inadequate food and hygiene, and access to fresh air and sunlight. They continue to receive inadequate medical care and endure racial slurs and discriminatory treatment by prison staff.
The reports – detailing conditions at the Houston Processing Center and Polk County Secure Adult Detention Facility in Livingston – are part of a national Expose and Close Campaign to highlight conditions at ten of the nation’s worst immigrant detention facilities that exemplify the egregious problems inherent throughout the system. The Campaign is calling for immediate closure of these facilities. The reports are available online here.
“At the Polk County facility, we witnessed horrific conditions,” said Texans United for Families member Sam Vong. “ICE must shut down this facility as a first step towards reducing its detained population.”"
The organizations are planning a vigil at the Polk County facility on December 8th. More information on that protest is at Grassroots Leadership's website.
This week, Bob and I participated in a webinar hosted by Detention Watch Network and our respective organizations, The Sentencing Project and Grassroots Leadership. The webinar addressed the relationship between for-profit prisons and immigrant detention.
Cody Mason, with The Sentencing Project, presented on the recent report, Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention, where he discussed the growth in ICE and USMS contract capacity for immigrant detention. Bob discussed how Operation Streamline is driving growth in immigrant detention through the increased prosecutions of certain federal offenses that have moved immigration policy into the criminal justice system. Also, Emily Tucker with the Detention Watch Network focused her remarks on the problems with mandatory detention and the unjust federal and state policies that have expanding the government’s authority to detain people. The call also featured Hope Mustakim of Texas; her husband Nazry immigrated from Singapore several years ago and due to changes in immigration policy was detained in the South Texas Detention Center in 2011.
A few notable facts reported during the webinar are:
Nearly 200 people registered for the webinar, representing communities of faith, impacted communities, and organizers working towards immigration and criminal justice reform. Folks can download the webinar here until August 29th.
On Tuesday, I participated in an Austin protest against Wells Fargo's holdings in private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America. The coalition of immigrant rights groups (including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families) called on Wells Fargo to divest of their holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.
Nearly half of the more than 33,000 immigration detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations, and the detention system will cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year. Benefiting from this practice are companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, as well a companies like Wells Fargo, that have invested in the growth of the private prison industry.
For more on the Austin protests, see the Grassroots Leadership or Texans United for Families facebook pages. And, for more photos and videos from other Wells Fargo protests around the country, check out the National Prison Divestment Campaign, coordinated by Enlace.
Over the next several days, Texas Prison Bid'ness will be highlighting the top five private prison stories of 2011, and looking forward to the new year. Our #2 story is the growing resistance amongst immigrant rights organizations and media to the for-profit private detention system.
In October of 2010, NPR reported that through its membership in ALEC, private prison corporation Corrections Corporation of America was able to help draft model anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona's noxious SB 1070. The story would be a precursor to a host of organizing efforts, research initiatives, and media campaigns by immigrant rights groups around the country to expose the private prison industry's role in immigration detention policy. Here are some of the highlights:
1) In May, the Detention Watch Network (with the support of Grassroots Leadership, my organization) published data outlining that 47% of all immigration detention beds are operated by private prison corporations and that CCA and GEO Group have poured millions of dollars into federal lobbying expenditures over the last several years.
2) Enlace, an international coalition of worker and migrant organizations, launched a national prison divestment campaign with allies across the country. The campaign got an immediate boost when Pershing Square head Bill Ackman dumped his company's stocks in the Corrections Corporation of America. Since then, the movement has taken off with protests in front of GEO-investor Wells Fargo in around the country including here in Austin with actions taken by the Texans United for Families coalition.
3) Perhaps the most visually inspiring campaign has been the series of "Immigrants for Sale" videos produced by Cuentame and the Brave New Foundation. This series highlights the role of the private prison industry in benefiting from and propelling the growth of immigration detention. Check out the first video for an overview of what was to come:
Here's hoping for a 2012 filled with similar kinds of creative protests of the private prison industry.