Immigrants for Sale


May 12, 2011 by tristan savage

Community and labor groups took to the streets today in five major cities to demand divestment of private and public holdings in the private prison industry. The prison industry, especially the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has had a major hand in lobbying for harsher immigrant incarceration policies like Arizona’s SB1070. Back in October, NPR did a special report on the economics of SB1070 and its sponsor Russell Pearce’s connections to CCA throught ALEC, a right-wing club for politicians and corporate lobbyists to design legislation together.

A child whose father was incarcerated at a CCA facility. If deported, he will leave a wife and five children behind.

Detentions of immigrants are on pace to cost taxpayers billions of dollars this year. Meanwhile Manhattan-based hedge fund managers and other finance industry magnates like Wells Fargo who have significant investments in the private prison industry rake in the profits, say the Enlace coalition members who announced the plan. The protests occured in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Tucson, Nashville and Miami.

The private prison industry, in league with major investors, is working to increase the criminalization of U.S. communities. Through lobbying efforts, they increase federal penalties and incarcerations. States like Arizona and Georgia also recently passed legislation that accelerates the detention of immigrants.

U.S. incarceration rate: #1 globally

Today, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. With over 2.3 million men and women living behind bars, the imprisonment rate is higher than it has ever been in U.S. history. Nevertheless, our criminal justice system is a failure in public safety, and in fairness as well as in cost-effectiveness, according to the ACLU.

Anti-prison activists outside the CCA shareholders meeting in Nashville, TN

“Now they’re conspiring to get states to put more people in jail for longer periods of time, costing tax-payers millions for no justifiable reason which undermines the credibility of our justice system. We can’t let this happen,” said Peter Cervantes-Gautschi of Enlace, an alliance of low-wage labor groups in the U.S. and Mexico.

This group, in partnership with community groups and unions across the US, is calling on all public and private institutions to divest their holdings in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, America’s largest private prison corporations. These groups have benefitted from billions of taxpayer dollars.

Major investors in the private prison industry include Pershing Square Capital Management, Wellington Management Company, Wells Fargo Bank, General Electric and others. The protests coincide with the annual shareholders meeting of CCA in Nashville, TN the site of one of the protests.

To get involved in the long-term movement against criminalization of migrants and other people disproportionately targeted as the private piggybanks of the prison industry, go to Cuéntame.

Note: significant portions of this report were drawn from BorderExplorer’s excellent post at

4 thoughts on “Immigrants for Sale

  1. Robert Poort says:

    Very informative, very shocking!
    Thinking about the phenomena of privatized prisons – and how that’s even possible – I learned that in 2009 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that privately run prisons are unconstitutional, thus setting an international legal precedent. It remains to be seen if such a precedent has any effect on US policy, but the Israeli Supreme Court’s arguments as cited certainly offer a better understanding of the issue.

    In 2004, the Israeli Knesset passed a law permitting the establishment of private prisons in Israel. The State’s motivation was to save money by transferring prisoners to facilities managed by a private firm. The state would pay the franchisee $50 per day for each inmate, sparing itself the cost of building new prisons and expanding the staff of the Israel Prison Service. In 2005, the human rights department of the Academic College of Law in Ramat Gan filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court challenging the law. The petition relied on two arguments. First, it said, transferring prison powers to private hands would violate the prisoners’ fundamental human rights to liberty and dignity. Secondly, a private organization always aims to maximize profit, and would therefore seek to cut costs by, for instance, skimping on prison facilities and paying its guards poorly, thus further undermining the prisoners’ rights. As the case awaited decision, the first prison was built by the concessionaire, Lev Leviev’s Africa Israel – a facility near Beersheba planned to accommodate 2,000 prisoners.

    In November 2009, an expanded panel of 9 judges of the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that privately run prisons are unconstitutional, finding that for the State to transfer authority for managing the prison to a private contractor whose aim is monetary profit would severely violate the prisoners’ basic human rights to dignity and freedom. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, wrote that “Israel’s basic legal principles hold that the right to use force in general, and the right to enforce criminal law by putting people behind bars in particular, is one of the most fundamental and one of the most invasive powers in the state’s jurisdiction. Thus when the power to incarcerate is transferred to a private corporation whose purpose is making money, the act of depriving a person of his liberty loses much of its legitimacy. Because of this loss of legitimacy, the violation of the prisoner’s right to liberty goes beyond the violation entailed in the incarceration itself.”


  2. yaqub2010 says:

    I spent 4 years in a CCA prison in Sayre, OK….I know all too well how these Capitalist Monsters work. That experience inspired me to work in re-entry because this system is designed to destroy lives…hey…but there’s a bright side….I guess…THE GOT OSAMA!!! UGH

    • Robert Poort says:

      Thanks for sharing Yaqub, it’s one thing to discuss this online together, but a whole different perspective from the inside. Wishing you all the best for the future !

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