Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Obama Administration hands lucrative, belated Christmas gift to private prison industry

In a major victory for private prison lobbyists, the Obama Administration has announced a dramatic change in incarceration policy regarding economic migrants, aiming to incarcerate pre-trial and adjudicate a much larger percentage of non-criminal immigration cases instead of using "voluntary returns," or just shipping economic immigrants back to Mexico, typically without processing through the court system. Illegal immigration has plummeted since the onset of high unemployment in the United States, so this policy props up a massive federal immigration bureaucracy built up during the last two presidential administrations with a new, enhanced raisson d'etre. Reported the El Paso Times ("US will toughen voluntary returns," Jan. 18):
El Paso lawyer Carlos Spector, who specializes in immigration and asylum issues, said he does not believe there are enough federal prosecutors and judges to handle all the potential cases that could be referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office. "We have about 5,000 cases on the docket of the Downtown courthouse," Spector said. "We are waiting two to three years to get a hearing for some cases.

"With the apprehensions being down so much, the Border Patrol really needs to justify all the money it's been getting for its budget," Spector said. "It's like bringing the soldiers back from Afghanistan, and then once they're here, what do you do with them?"

Spector said Mexico's drug cartel wars also have created new dangers for immigrants seeking to cross the border illegally. Mexican authorities have implicated violent cartels in the kidnappings and murders of hundreds of immigrants, usually stemming from disputes between rival human smugglers associated with the drug cartels.
Not only are there dangers from cartels (busloads of economic migrants have been massacred as part of the savage violence in northern Mexico), but "Officials of Mexico's National Commission for Human Rights, a government agency, said that 3,000 Mexican migrants died while crossing the border between 2000 and 2010, many of whom got lost without food and water in the desert." So incredibly desperate people are already willing to risk their lives from cartels and the elements - the death penalty, if you will - to get into the United States. That's far more people than have been executed over the same period for capital murder! Think about it: As a practical matter, will the possibility of a year or two in a Geo-Group run prison and formal deportation really be a big deterrent for such folk? This policy is much more about Democratic positioning among independents and conservative Dems before a presidential election than addressing dysfunctionality in the immigration system.

As a byproduct of that electoral political agenda, private prison companies and potentially even counties that built speculative prisons might see a wave of new, taxpayer-funded contracts. That's a disappointment for anyone who hoped federal expenses might fall after the rate of growth in immigration detention finally seemed to be receding with the deflated economy. As usual, though, incarceration rates are driven mostly by policy decisions as opposed to the actual scope of the problem the state is trying to solve. That's why immigration detention may increase while illegal immigration drops, just as incarceration rates may rise even while crime is dramatically falling.

A US Attorney in California explained the fundamental difference in the new approach to CBS News: "It has not been the practice ... to target and prosecute economic migrants who have no criminal histories, who are coming in to the United States to work or to be with their families. ... We do target the individuals who are smuggling those individuals." Now in many cases that could change, if the Border Patrol gets their way. Prosecuting non-criminal migrants themselves opens up such a vast new pool of incarceration possibilities that I won't be surprised to see stocks at Geo Group (GEO) and Corrections Corporation of America (CXW) jump in response.

As a middle-aged man, from a purely selfish perspective, I want as many immigrants as possible here, low-waged and high, all legal, amnestied, documented, and paying into social security and Medicare, preferably, if only so there will be enough workers footing the bill when it's my turn to benefit from those programs. Immigration benefits the economy, just as a large proportion of Texas' much-admired economic miracle may be attributed to large-scale migration to the state (including illegal immigration, most of which IMO should have been formally allowed), but that's a different polemic for another day. Setting aside one's big-picture stance on immigration, this particular policy is a solution quite literally searching for a problem (except, I suppose, for the problems of the punishment-for-profit crowd), providing little additional deterrent or benefit, but with a large price tag attached and lucrative new contracts handed out like candy to private-prison interests. Pointless policy, dumb idea.


Anonymous said...

I wonder how much inside trading is taking place by our elected officials. Bet there is a substantial amount of geo corp stock in their portfolios.

The Comedian said...

"Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy?" - Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (1987)

Phillip Baker said...

Private prisons, what a bad joke on us all. They come in with political connections in the first place, low ball their bids, win contracts, and then slowly raise their costs until we are paying more for "privatization" than by using our prison system.

Aside from the money scams, I believe there are fundamental government functions that cannot constitutionally be farmed out. One is incarceration. If the State metes out incarceration, then it should be the State to administer it, not some for-profit company. There are just some things too inherently a government function to be farmed out.