Friday, July 23, 2010

Orwellian-named immigration policy massively subsidizes private prisons in Texas

Bob Libal at Texas Prison Bidness has authored a "green paper" (pdf) on behalf of the group Grassroots Leadership critiquing the Orwellian-named "Operation Streamline," which is the Bush-initiated practice of layering criminal charges for illegal entry on top of civil detention prior to deportation. Libal says:
The result has been a mess.  In Texas alone, 135,000 immigrants now have criminal records and many have done real prison time under the Streamline before being deported (far from streamlining the process, the policy adds another layer of incarceration on top of the existing civil detention system). 

While most researchers believe that the program hasn't deterred unauthorized immigration, the program has affected the judicial system in serious ways.  The federal court system is horrendously over-booked.  54% of 2009's federal prosecutions across the country were for immigration violations.  In the Southern District of Texas, a district that includes Houston, a full 84% of April prosecutions were for two immigration violations - unauthorized entry (1325) and unauthorized re-entry (1326).  With a mandated focus on prosecution of immigration violations, diligence to other prosecutions has fallen off dramatically
Grits has described previously the dropoff in white-collar and drug prosecutions resulting from Operation Streamline, but Libal adds to that critique the observation that the policy amounts to a massive subsidy of the private prison industry. Says the report:
Operation Streamline has funneled more than $1.2 billion into the largely for-profit detention system in Texas, driving the expansion of private prisons along the border. Operation Streamline has significantly increased the caseload of public defenders and federal judges while radically increasing the number of individuals incarcerated for petty immigration violations in for-profit private prisons and county jails throughout Texas.
The paper also documents the growth in US Marshalls and federal Bureau of Prison's leased detention beds in Texas, which together expanded by 17,249 between 2000 and 2009, according to an appendix.

Two takeaways from this paper: 1) Larding criminal prosecution onto deportation proceedings makes us less safe by reducing federal prosecutors' focus on more serious crimes, especially in Texas' Southern and Western Districts. And 2) If the feds were to rescind that policy, which seems not just wise but necessary, the bottom will drop out of the private prison market in Texas. When that happens, all the counties who overbuilt their jails imagining they'd fill them with immigrants are going to find themselves SOL.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly, but our nation is running towards an era of anti-immigration that will not take this logical view into account. Yes, immigration policy needs to be reformed using reasonable and evidence-backed decisions rather than scare-tactics and fear-mongering. The federal criminal courts are a mess right now because they have been forced to take on a role that they were never meant to fulfill, but unfortunately I don't see this changing any time soon with the "popularity" of Arizona-style anti-immigration (and particularly anti-minority) laws and rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

7:39, the vast majority of people in this country are not "anti-immigration." Instead, they are "anti-illegal immigration." There's a difference. Until our liberal president decides to give up on his dream of recruiting 12 million new Democratic voters and secures our Southern border, there is going to continue to be a public backlash such as what you see in Arizona. If the border was secure, most people would have no problem decriminalizing illegal immigration. Just deport the offenders and be done with it. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems hell bent and determined to do anything BUT secure the border. This is becoming a national joke.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I wish that were true, 9:35, that Americans don't oppose legal immigration because then the problem would be more readily soluble, but it's not. Fact is, those who criticize illegal immigration overwhelmingly oppose the easiest solution: legalizing it. Raise the quotas from the affected countries to match demand in the labor markets and be done with it. The same principles are involved as described in this post.

The idea of "secure the border" first is farcical: From any reality-based perspective, it's never been "secure" in the way you mean it, and insisting we must wait for that to happen before raising immigration quotas or implementing amnesty for those living here (i.e., the Ronald Reagan solution) amounts to opposing legal immigration in practice.

Anonymous said...

I certainly do agree, Grits, that the southern border has never been secure. That's why we're in the mess we're in now. What I don't agree on is the premise that securing our border is "farcical" as you put it? While it may not be possible to completely prevent all illegal ingress, we can certainly do much better than we're doing now. I think people in this country are beginning to really question this claim--mainly asserted by Democrats--that we just have accept the fact that we can't stop illegal crossings. Another misconception is this claim that we can't deport most or all of the illegal immigrants currently in this country. Why can't we? I don't think most people in this country would have a problem with expanding the number of work visas issued to address labor shortages occasioned by a tougher immigration policy. But it's way past time to gain better control of who comes in and out of our country. And as Ronald Reagan (God rest his soul) unfortunately proved, amnesty is not the answer. That only encourages more illegal immigration.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What's "farcical" is claiming that something which has never been done in history must be done FIRST before doing what can be done immediately and easily. The volume of traffic at the border is vast and most smuggling of people and drugs already happens through the checkpoints. One corrupt guard can let a lot of stuff slide by, and there's far more than one. It's been ever thus.

If you oppose doing anything until we all reside in some Fantasy Land of the Future where insoluble problems have all been resolved, that's just obstructionism. They can't keep drugs and contraband out of PRISONS, so the border will never be "secure." Rather than just wait for that magical day that will never come, why not raise quotas, grant amnesty, and get all those folks out of the shadows and onto the tax rolls? The rest will take care of itself.

Speaking of which, IMO Reagan proved amnesty works incredibly well - basically resolving "illegal" immigration by legalizing it. What significant problems did those people granted amnesty ever cause? By what metric was that a failure? IMO such folks have been a boon, certainly to Texas, both economically and culturally.

Finally, you could deport everyone - it would be one of the largest mass ejections in history, bordering on Stalin-era transmigration in the USSR, etc., but it could be done. It would be remembered as one of the darker passages of American history like slavery or the Japanese internments. And I fear it could not be done without turning a society already over-infatuated with enforcement into a police state. Personally, I see no attainable goal that's remotely worth the sacrifice when, if you REALLY don't mind legal immigration, the problem is simple to fix without going through all that.

Anonymous said...

So you just want to legalize 12 million illegals? And exactly what message does that send to the rest of the terrorized and impoverished millions who still live south of the border? Reagan's amnesty program simply created another incentive for more who were tempted to come here. What's wrong with requiring all of these illegals to go home and get in line to go through the same process that immigrants from other countries have to go through? Why are they considered more "entitled" simply because they found a way to sneak into this country without getting caught. At the end of the day, this country cannot simply continue to sustain this mass undocumented migration into this country. It's already a tremendous burden on the education and health care system in this country. To a lesser degree, it's also a burden on the criminal justice system. This is all occurring at a time when we have double digit unemployment in this country. Instead of paying citizens of this country to be unemployed for 3 or 4years, I wonder how many jobs might be created if we really got serious about controlling our borders and required all of those here unlawfully to go home? Or are you going argue that the jobs currently held by the illegals in this country are "beneath" American citizens?

R. Shackleford said...

I am all for stopping illegal immigration, but damned if I want the already bloated TDCJ making any money off of it. Texas prison culture is a huge drain on both my wallet and my patience. I despise it with great fervor.

Anonymous said...

Usually I agree with you Grits, but I'm finding that on this issue I have to totally disagree.
You said a couple of things that I'm just having serious issue with. “why not raise quotas, grant amnesty, and get all those folks out of the shadows and onto the tax rolls? “ and “What significant problems did those people granted amnesty ever cause? “

For the first statement, it's a slap in the face to all those who have gone through the system, complete with all it's problems, and come here legally. What about all those who are currently waiting and jumping through hoops to become citizens? Amnesty for those who are here illegally is like giving the child who purposefully broke your window a pat on the head while sending the one who didn't to his room.

I'm conflicted about raising quotas. Can we as a country continue to increase our population when our unemployment is as it is and our infrastructures are already crumbling? Have we any really in depth studies without pro or anti immigration, legal or illegal, biases available to answer that question?

As for getting them on the tax rolls, well I would really like to see some numbers on how many already are, but just with stolen identities. I'm not saying that every illegal has stolen an identity, but one does wonder how they get jobs that require them. I had the unfortunate experience to be in a local shop when a woman came in, asked for a particular employee and saw the fur fly when that woman started screaming, “You've ruined my life!”. From what I could gather while standing in the checkout line, the employee had stolen her social security number, used it and caused all sorts of grief for the woman. As I was leaving, the police were coming in and I have no idea what happened from there, but I do know the grief we went through when someone was using my child's SS number. At the time I was amazed that the SS office didn't seem to notice that my 5 year old was doing construction work. You would think someone somewhere would have questioned a small child working to build a highrise.

On “What significant problems did those people granted amnesty ever cause? “ As individuals, I'm not able to answer that. But I do believe that amnesty in general created a poor precedent if you consider that it was supposed to solve the problem then and instead it has only increased considerably.

I can understand wanting to create a better life for ones family. I really do. But I believe we have reached a point in time where we have to realize that we cannot be responsible for all the poor and oppressed of the world and continue to be a viable country for our own citizens. There are places in the world in which the poor are much worse off than the poor in Mexico. Don't they deserve a better life as well, if not more? My grandparents immigrated from Rumania, Russia, France and Mexico legally, learned English and were so proud of gaining their citizenship. They never forgot who they were or where they came from, but as proud of where they came from, what they survived, their heritage and their customs, they were just as proud of being “Real” Americans. It was a matter of respect of the country they wanted to call home to follow the law and do it right no matter how long it took.

For some, yes it's about hate and fear. Many who trace their history to the early days of this country like to overlook that they are descended from indentured servants, horse thieves and court prostitutes who were transported for life. There is no doubt in my mind that a good number of Americans are better at hating than much else, but for some of us the issue is more faceted and deeper. I have too many unanswered questions to agree with an amnesty and too little respect for those who think they have special rights over those who go through the grief of doing things legally and will essentially get screwed for following the rules.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:33 writes, "it's a slap in the face to all those who have gone through the system, complete with all it's problems, and come here legally."

That's a phony, BS argument IMO. Those aren't the people complaining!! And of course if you simultaneously oppose raising quotas to let people in legally, it's a VERY disingenuous stance to take.

On stolen identities, they won't have to steal them if they're allowed to enter legally and in fact there would be big incentives to become legal and stop doing that to secure employment. That's a function of restrictions on immigration and would be mostly resolved if you create legal paths to entry.

The economy is not a zero sum game, which is where I think we mostly differ. If you believe in free markets, trust the labor market. It's just not true that anybody else's gain is your loss and immigrants - legal and illegal alike - have by far been more boon than detriment to the economy going back to the nation's founding.

Anonymous said...

Grits,
I beg to differ on your assertion that naturalized citizens and those working their way through the system legally aren't against those who ignore the system.

I didn't say I oppose raising the quotas, I said I was conflicted. I would love to see unbiased information on how we can sustain our country and set reasonable number for immigration. I have yet to read a report or article that doesn't manipulate the numbers and conclusions to fit the pro or anti argument. I'm also distressed that so many see immigration, legal or not, as an “Hispanic issue” when immigrants come from a variety of countries. Decisions on quotas should be made with real information on what numbers we can sustain and not fear or hatred. Given my own ethnic background I am well aware of how quotas can affect lives. Two of my grandparents lost over 90% of their families in Europe, WWII was unkind to my family in France and there is practically a war between my Mexican relatives over those who came legally and those who didn't.

“On stolen identities, they won't have to steal them if they're allowed to enter legally”. I'm sorry, but that argument just doesn't cut it. With all the issues you cover here and do so much good with, I'm sure you're well aware that life is unfair. It's unfair that our system of immigration is so difficult to navigate, that people feel they must leave their country and enter ours illegally to have a better life. It's unfair that I can't just go live in Paris, Bucharest or Quaxaca without having to do it legally. If I stole the identity of a citizen of any of the countries those cities are in and got caught I'd probably be spending a good deal of time in a very unpleasant prison. It's unfair that some are born in poverty in other countries and that's not going to change. Ever. Nor are we ever going to be able to accommodate every potential immigrant who wants a better life here no matter that they are escaping poverty, oppression, religious persecution or death. The reality is that it's just not going to happen. So Grits, who do we let in? Who do we allow to stay? The ones who have entered illegally? The Haitian who has no family, no life left after the earthquake? The woman with daughters trying to escape a culture that practices ritual mutilation? Those fleeing ethnic genocide? Who do we give priority to? Those who have by virtue of being here broke our laws already or those who sit and face the horrors of their existences while waiting for entry because the numbers are so high we can't take them all. God help them all, there are just too many.

And Grits, it is not just unfair, but it's criminal what identity theft does to the person whose identity was stolen and I'm sorry but “they won't have to steal them if they're allowed to enter legally” means absolutely nothing to the victims of this crime. It's not a viable excuse to say “I'm sorry I had to steal your identity and mess up your life so that I could live mine because I came here illegally and can't get a job without your SS number.” While you may argue the first crime of entering illegally may not harm people, the second crime most certainly does. I'm rather shocked that you so cavalierly write it off as just side effect of not enough legal paths of entry. Immigration to any country is a privilege, not a right.

I don't have the answers. No matter what one decides it can be perceived as unfair to someone else. This seems to be a subject that no matter what side you're on brings out too much anger and not enough sense. Nor enough real information to make informed decisions with. On one side you see those who would institute mass deportations, on the other amnesty. Both sides are playing on peoples fears but there's nothing new about that. Finding a reasonable middle ground would be nice. But I don't expect that to happen either.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:26, I don't see masses of legal immigrants populating the protests against illegal immigration, it's generally large numbers of white nativists. That's the big-picture reality. I'm guessing, for example, you didn't immigrate here.

Quotas are too low and lowering them to unrealistic, artificial levels is what caused the immigration crisis, not a new wave of lawbreakers. Now that jobs are scarce, immigration legal and otherwise has declined. Illegal immigration in the last two decades wasn't caused by any "incentive" created by Reagan's amnesty, it was 100% a function of jobs, the labor market, and unrealistically low quotas.

And, yes identity theft is illegal and harmful, so I don't "write off" its effects, cavalierly or otherwise. But what's the solution? If you're so concerned about it, why are you opposed to a legalization tactic that far and away would do the most to reduce that crime under these circumstances? Bottom line: Is it more important to reduce the number of crime victims or maximally punish those who've committed the offense in the past? IMO the priority should be reducing the number of victims, which is why I suggest changing immigrants' legal circumstances to make ID theft unnecessary to work. Your maximum enforcement solution, by contrast, drives people underground and makes them MORE likely to commit that crime. If ID theft is so bad, why do you support policies that ensure it will become more common?

You're advocating Stalinesque forced migration right now, today, but can't decide about raising quotas until you make your mind up about whether these folks deserve the same "special right" to immigrate here as your own ancestors. That's the part I say is disingenuous.

BlackFlame said...

Yes, oink, oink, oink, Pigs make huge profits off of incarceration. It is big business and monies for the communities. And, the whores that support these institutions should be taken out of power. Oink, oink, oink.