Beyond the Border: For-Profit Incarceration & Detention
General Assembly 2012 Event 329
Download the video file (MP4)
Speakers: Donna Red Wing, Bob Libal, Carlos Garcia, Caroline Issacs
Arizona is the “perfect storm” of immigrant exploitation, legislative abuse, border deaths, private prisons and corrupt elected officials. We offer the data, research and tools that can be utilized while in Arizona and in home communities to initiate public dialogue and action towards immigration reform and ending for-profit detention.
DONNA RED WING: Before we begin- because we should begin very soon- I'd just like to mention, on your way out—if you haven't picked one up already—we have these fabulous fans for when you go outside. I hear that the sopranos in the choir all have these fans. So they're a hot item. We also have a number of things, one is our candidate card. We have a big election coming up in November and we're asking people to ask some very tough questions, so take one of these. If you're feeling lucky or you want to be on our mailing list, or both, please take one of these and fill it out, and either leave it here or come up to booth number 418. You could win a video camera this weekend.
There's also a handout around what you can do wherever you are and whoever you are around abolishing for-profit prisons and detention centers. There's also a wonderful book from the American Friends Service Committee, and Caroline will talk more about it. But they're up there. They're asking for a $5 donation. You can download it. You can download the PDF. But if you'd like a real copy, you can see Caroline later and she'll help you with that. Private Prisons: The Public's Problem.
So, my name is Donna Red Wing. I'm the outgoing executive director of Grassroots Leadership. We've assembled for you today, I think, an extraordinary group of people to speak with you about the perfect storm that is Arizona. A perfect storm of immigrant exploitation, legislative abuse, border deaths, private prisons, and corrupt elected officials. Today our conversation is, Beyond the Border: For-Profit Incarceration & Detention.
Our first speaker will be Bob Libal. He's the incoming executive director of Grassroots Leadership. He's a nationally respected expert on for-profit prisons and immigrant detention centers. He co-authored "Progress or Profit: Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration." He is—really if a journalist is looking for someone to comment on private prisons and for-profit incarceration, he is probably one of four or five people that will get called.
Our next speaker will be Jay Keller. He's the director of Outreach and Operations for the Washington, DC based Interfaith Alliance. Jay has managed Lead which is the youth program of the Interfaith Alliance. And he manages the national field operations for Interfaith Alliance.
Caroline Isaacs is the program director at the Arizona American Friends Service Committee. She's a long time Tucson activist. She works at the forefront against prison privatization and for-profit immigrant detention. Caroline is a mom, and I understand that she plays washboard for The Silver Threads.
And last, but certainly not least, Carlos Garcia is an activist and community organizer in Maricopa County here in Arizona. He works to end the federal government's collaboration with local law enforcement to detain and deport immigrants. As a community organizer he's helped create and maintain the resistance to federal laws that criminalize immigrants. And just recently Carlos was named a 2012 Soros Justice Fellow. So, congratulations for that.
In this conversation today we're going to try to offer the data, research, and tools that can be utilized while in Arizona and maybe, more importantly, in home communities. The resources needed to initiate public dialogue and action toward immigration reform and ending for-profit detention.
Before I hand this over to our speakers, to our experts, I'd like to share a few things with you to set the tone and begin the narrative for this conversation. 9% of the prison beds in this country and almost 50% of the more than 34,000 immigrant detention beds in this country are owned by private corporations. Adding the profit motive to detention and incarceration creates, we think, two levels of problems for a just society. First, cost cutting measures employed by private prisons, jails, and detention centers pose dangers both to those who are detained or in prison, but also to the staff of those facilities. And Secondly, the incarceration corporations have a vested interest in keeping prison beds and detention beds full. Their profits depend on harsh sentences, mandatory minimums, and derailing, comprehensive immigration reform. Rehabilitation is bad for business.
This industry, this private prison industry, has expanded its reach and now offers health services, transportation, and food services for the incarcerated and detained. Two years ago The GEO Group offered to take on executions in this state of Arizona. Let me repeat that. The offer was to privatize, to make money on, the execution of human beings.
When we look at Arizona today, you should be outraged at the cycle of money, power, greed, and corruption that is the private prison industry and the detention industry. I hope that you'll remember the cost in human lives. The extraordinary price paid by the most vulnerable among us. And I hope that when you leave today that you vow to do something about this shameful industry.
But please, don't go home thinking that this is an Arizona problem. This is a national problem. A national obscenity. If you live in Rhode Island, Rhode Island, you have a for-profit immigration center in the small community of Central Falls. If you're from Pennsylvania, you have the "kids for cash" scandal. Colorado, you have Bent, and Crowley, Huerfano, and Kit Carson facilities. You also have the mega detention facility in Aurora. Almost every woman incarcerated in the state of New Mexico is in the New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility, that's run by the Corrections Corporation of America. California, well, you send some of your inmates to other states including Arizona. There is no region in this nation that is not impacted by this multi-billion dollar industry. And this is an industry that wants to grow and that is growing.
Harley Lappin, the Executive Vice President of Corrections Corporation of America, sent a letter earlier this year to governors across this nation talking about the benefits of being bought out by a private prison industry. They've earmarked over a quarter of a billion dollars to purchase and manage government owned correction facilities. They describe it in their marketing as an opportunity for federal, state, or local government that are considering the benefits of partnership corrections. Our criminal justice system is for sale.
The first two principles of Unitarian Universalism address the inherent worth and dignity of every person and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. In this country we are engaged in the buying and selling of women, children, and men. As a Unitarian Universalist I challenge you to engage. If we say nothing, if we do nothing, then we are complicit in this obscene commerce. So please, when you go home after GA, think about what you heard today. Think about the people you met today. Find a way to engage in this work to abolish private prisons and for-profit detention centers. The inherent dignity and worth of every human being is at stake.
Please join me in welcoming the new executive director of Grassroots Leadership, Bob Libal.
BOB LIBAL: Thank you Donna. It's always hard to follow Donna Red Wing, both in speaking and at Grassroots Leadership. She's going to be really missed. I am really humbled and honored to be here today.
I come from Austin, Texas. Yeah, Austin, Texas. The UUs, both on a local level and on a national level, are the leaders in so many social justice fights. You all are people that we can count on. And so it's really an honor to be here at the general assembly and to be able to meet so many of you and hopefully be back with you as we move forward.
How many people were here yesterday for Michelle Alexander's talk here in this room? That's great. I think that what Michelle Alexander has done has put the idea of mass incarceration as a defining institution in the United States on the map. And I think we all really owe her a debt of gratitude for that. Because this is an institution that actively controls the lives of nearly 2.5 million people in this country who today are behind bars. And far more than that have gone through the prison, jail, or immigration detention system.
This is a country that has just 5% of the world's population but 25% of the total incarcerated population in the world. On any given day we have 34,000 people who are incarcerated in an immigration detention facility solely because of their immigration status. And the racial bias in this system is pervasive. I think that that's one of the incredibly startling things about Michelle's book. That when you look at this criminal justice system, you realize that even though African Americans and white folks have similar levels of drug use and selling of drugs, African Americans are 10 times more likely to be behind bars for drug possession or drug distribution. And that there are more African Americans in prison, jail, or on probation or parole then were enslaved in 1850, 10 years before the Civil War. That's something that we should find appalling. Right? That's something we should find beyond statement. And I think that this is a system that is increasingly moving from targeting African Americans to also targeting Latinos and other immigrant populations.
Latinos now make up about 16% of the United States population but are half of people entering the Federal Bureau of Prisons right now. And that's not because there's a big crime wave in Latino communities. I think Michelle does a very good job of pointing out how incarceration rates and crime rates really have very little correlation. But it's because we've decided that we're going to criminally prosecute folks for immigration violations that used to be left in the civil immigration system. So you now have a rush of people who are—Latinos primarily—who are entering the federal prison system and serving real prison time for what used to be a civil immigration offense.
I think for many of us we see this as a moral crisis. An issue that we need to address and that we engage. And unfortunately this issue has become a big business for companies that both profit from and propel forward a system of mass incarceration and detention. As Donna mentioned, for-profit prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO group incarcerate more than 150,000 people on any given day in this country. And they're paid a per diem rate. They're paid a per prisoner, per day rate. So it's clearly within their interest to continue to have more and more people funneled into the prisons and detention system.
Just two corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO group—and The GEO Group used to be called Wackenhut Corrections Corporation. You realize that these companies, whenever their name becomes too sullied, they just change the name. Just these two companies have more than $3 billion in annual revenue. And they use that revenue, not to pay their employees a living wage, not to provide quality education and rehabilitation, but they pay their executives millions of dollars a year. And they turn around and they invest the profits of their earnings into ensuring that they're going to continue to have a market for more and more people incarcerated in their facilities. And how do they do that? They do it through federal lobbying. They do it through federal campaign contributions. They do it through state level lobbying, local influence. GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America have spent more than $20 million in federal lobbying in the last 10 years. And they spent well more than that on state level lobbying.
They hire very well connected lobbyists. In Texas they hired Randy DeLay, Tom DeLay's brother, to go lobby the federal government. When the new administration took over, they hired the Podesta Group. A progressive, so-called progressive, lobbying firm to lobby for their interests. I think that it's actually a victory that people have convinced the Podesta Group that's not a good client. So they've actually dropped the GEO Group as a client. And they participate, or they have participated in organizations like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.
They spend enormous amounts of money in states like Arizona and Texas pushing bills that fill their prisons. They advocate to keep troubled facilities open even when state lawmakers want to close them. In Texas we had a juvenile detention facility in Coke County where there were—a state inspector went into this facility and found feces smeared on the walls. He found the fire locks padlocked shut. He found kids who were kept in isolation for far longer than they were supposed to be allowed to. And when the state went in to try to close that facility, what did the GEO group do? They didn't work to remedy the situation. They didn't work to better the lives of the kids who were incarcerated in the facility. They increased their lobbying by tenfold that year. They paid lobbyists far more to go ensure that their interests were met at the Texas state capital.
And as Donna mentioned, CCA recently sent a letter to 48 governors saying, we know that cash is tight right now. We know that we can infuse your Department of Corrections with a little cash. Just sell us your prisons. Sell us your actual, physical prisons and you can pay us to continue to operate them over 20 years, say. But the only stipulation on that was that they need to be kept 90% full. Thankfully, through the actions of many faith organizations and civil rights groups, we've been hearing back that most governors—even my governor in Texas—have said that that's not an offer that they want to take.
So I come from Texas. And Texas is known for a lot of things. Presidential candidates, presidents. And despite some hard earned reforms in recent years that has slightly decreased the prison population, Texas now has more people incarcerated than any other state. And it has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country as well. We also have more private prisons, jails, and immigration detention facilities than any other state. And we have more immigration detention facilities than any other state as well. And I think that we compete with Arizona. We're going to hear more about Arizona for the most immigration detention beds.
I think Arizona's perhaps the only state that rivals Texas in terms of the reach of the private prison industry. Here—we'll probably hear about this from Caroline—here we have consultants to the governor who are literally lobbyists for Corrections Corporation of America. And so I think this paints a sort of a very bleak picture. It's kind of like a dystopic, science fiction novel or something. You have private prison corporations who spend millions of dollars to ensure that some of the least powerful people in our society continue to remain in their custody for longer and longer periods of time so the bottom line is expanded. But I also think that there's a lot of hope right now. I think we're actually at a defining moment in this industry. And I think that our challenge is to define mass incarceration and the for-profit prison system as a moral crisis and one of the civil rights issues of our time. And I think that we've really begun to do that.
Just last year the United Methodist Church came out with one of the strongest statements on prison privatization by a faith denomination yet. They not only reiterated that the United Methodist Church is against prison privatization, but they took all of their money out of the private prison industry and said that they will never invest in the private prison industry again. And so I think that there are a number of things that we can go home with the idea of doing. I think that we can act with our denomination. The UUs have always been at the forefront of social justice issues. And I think that the UUs can be at the forefront of this issue as well by issuing a strong denominational statement saying private prisons have no place in a democratic society.
You can act with your congregation. One of the things we do is to help people start visitation programs to go inside of immigration detention facilities to break the isolation of detention. And we'll be teaming with Standing on the Side of Love on July 25th for a webinar to show how we started our visitation program to the T. Don Hutto Detention Facility. And talk about the reasons and really the nuts and bolts of how you start a visitation program to an immigration detention facility.
You can act with your pens and your voices. There's a candidate card over on the table over there. Ask your elected official, do you take money from private prison corporations and do you support for-profit incarceration.
You can act with your checkbook. Does your congregation invest in the private prison industry? It's a question to ask. And if so, I would encourage you to join the Prison Divestment Campaign. I think Amanda is here in the room somewhere, who is helping coordinate this campaign. It's this incredibly diverse group of organizations that have come together to say we're not going to invest in the system anymore.
And you can act with your bodies. You can hold a vigil outside of a for-profit detention center. You can, as Carlos and folks here in Phoenix have done, show a physical resistance to this system that is driving so many of our neighbors, of our family members into the for-profit prison system.
And so I really encourage you to listen to what Jay and Carlos and Caroline say and make notes for yourself. What am I going to do when I go home from this gathering? Because I think this is not the end of this discussion, but just the beginning. So, Thank you very much.
JAY KELLER: Good morning. I'm Jay Keller. I'm the director of Outreach and Operations at Interfaith Alliance and relatively new on this issue of prison privatization. Although I've worked with Donna for many years, when she was at Interfaith Alliance, too.
It's interesting that private prisons are not necessarily new. It's what we started with when the country was founded. When the revolution was going on, the British took old ships and put Revolutionary War rebels on those ships in Boston Harbor and in New York. And there was little oversight on this. It was controlled by private industry there. So it is a trend that we did in the early days to punish the sinners for religious folks. We took people, we put them in prisons. They were controlled, in many cases, by private companies, by religious groups. But they were meant to punish not to rehabilitate. And that is something that, as we've grown as a country, we've changed that. We've determined that the better sense is what do we do with people after they've committed a crime. How do we prepare them for the future when they're out again? How do we rehabilitate? So that is something that we've changed. It's something that hopefully we do not really want to go back to.
Privatization is an issue we've been looking at at Interfaith Alliance not just from, more recently, a prison standpoint, but from a host of privatization issues. From looking at how the trend goes to privatize the military, as we look at the wars we're fighting overseas, and we're trying to use more and more contractors.
For us at Interfaith Alliance, we've been very concerned about the privatization of schools and vouchers. Our president, Welton Gaddy, hails from Monroe, Louisiana. And he was talking this morning about the governor of Louisiana just signing off on a bill to put $3.5 billion into private schools in Louisiana. And he signed this bill in a Catholic Church. And part of that money is going—over $1 million—is going for a private school run by a Christian evangelical church. The school is not yet built and the curriculum has already been announced that it's going to be advanced Christian curriculum.
So this trend in privatization is something that we've got experts here that are really focused on the prisons. And it's something I think we should all be concerned about and we need to focus on here. But from an Interfaith Alliance standpoint, the concern is we work on privatization of prisons and where does it end? What does it go to? What do we turn over to private corporations? What is the role of citizens in terms of oversight on these issues? Do we give up all of our oversight on them? And I think, as Bob has said, as Caroline will say, as Carlos will say, the incentive, when you privatize this, is to take things out of sight, out of mind for the public for oversight. So it's a great concern there.
I am looking forward to the Q&A session at the end of this and continuing the discussion of what Bob talked about. How can the Unitarian Universalists get involved in these issues? How can they make a difference? How can they make a strong statement against privatization in prisons, in public schooling, maybe in the military? A whole host of things there. It is a worrisome trend. It is something that is very much at the forefront of the debate of the presidential elections today. And you look at it, whether it be the discussion of health care issues, or whether it be discussion of the military or prisons, these are areas that I think we all need to be very much involved in. We need to work on. I think Caroline will talk a little bit about the coalition they built it here in Arizona to get religious groups to sign off to oppose the privatization of prisons. That has got to be an ongoing effort for all of these issues. Things we're going to have to work on in all of our states and as we go back. So I'm looking forward to a little bit more of the Q&A. And I'm going to turn it back over to more of the experts here on the prison issue. Thank you.
CAROLINE ISAACS: Thank you Jay. I'm a low talker, so can you all hear me? Great. So again, my name is Caroline Isaacs. I'm with the American Friends Service Committee's Arizona office based in Tucson. And I am here today to tell you just how bad Arizona is when it comes to privatization of incarceration. And then hopefully we'll get to the good stuff. But as often is the case we will serve here as the cautionary tale for all of you to take home to your own states and really, hopefully, can learn something from our extremely bad example about how not to do this and how to hopefully hold your own states accountable. Stop this trend really before it gets going where you are. And maybe learn some tricks. Because we've had to be very tricky in Arizona. When you have an extremely hostile leadership to what you're trying to do, you start to get creative. So I'll talk a little bit about some things that we've been doing here in Arizona to hold our leadership accountable.
So just to give you the overview of what we're looking at here in Arizona as far as privatization, and I'm going to focus, of course, on mostly state prisoners, state felony offenders. And I'll touch a little bit on immigration detention but, of course, leaving that more to Carlos to fill that out.
So 14% of Arizona's state prisoners are held in for-profit facilities. And that's about the 12th highest rate in the nation for use of that particular form of incarceration. We've got five state prisons that are privatized. That are run by private corporations for the state of Arizona holding our prisoners. But we also have six what we call spec prisons—speculative prisons—that set up shop in the state of Arizona, but don't take prisoners from the state of Arizona. They will fill those beds with whoever they can get and whatever contracts they can cobble together. So there are six of these facilities. They are all run by Corrections Corporation of America, and they take prisoners from California, Hawaii, and the federal government. So you've got the Bureau of Prisons, the US Marshalls, and of course ICE—immigrant detention detainees.
We also have two other ICE detention centers in Arizona that are run by various governments. One is the Pinal County Jail and the other is the Florence Detention Center, which is actually run by ICE. So we have all flavors of prisons here in Arizona. You can take your pick. If Any of you have been to the central part of the state, Florence and Eloy. That's all there is in Florence and Eloy are prisons of various kinds. It's an extremely depressing place. I don't recommend that you go there.
So as if this weren't enough, our leadership, in its infinite wisdom, proposed about a year and a half, two years ago that we needed 5,000 more private beds in Arizona. 5,000. And put out a request for proposals to the private operators take to put in bids to build these new facilities. And so at that point we went into overdrive in terms of trying to scuttle this RFP. And fortunately, or more unfortunately, we were helped along in that by a spectacular escape from a private prison in Arizona in Kingman. Three fairly serious offenders had escaped from that facility. Went on a two week multi-state man hunt that culminated in the deaths of two people in New Mexico.
So all of a sudden we were having a conversation in Arizona about whether or not privatization is a good thing. And so we really tried to take advantage of that moment to have this conversation publicly, whereas it really hadn't been on the radar previously to that. And we were also helped along by a really extraordinary actual journalist. A real journalist. At the Arizona Republic, of all papers. And his name is Bob Ortega.—And he's my favorite guy. If you see him, tell him that.—He actually did some journalism which consisted of putting forward some public information requests to the Department of Corrections about what happened in the spectacular escape. We learned many things from this process. And the Republic was kind enough to open source documents that they procured from the Department of Corrections, including security assessments of all of our private prisons after the escapes. The after escape analysis by the Department of Corrections. And some other pretty damning stuff that was suddenly made public.
And one of the interesting things that Bob discovered in his research was that there was an actual state statute that requires the Department of Corrections to do a comparison review of the quality of the state's public and private prisons every two years. That statute had been on the books since 1987. It had never been done. Never. And so all of a sudden this was in the paper and we thought, wow we could sue the Department of Corrections for breaking the law. So we did.
Yeah! I heart recently graduated law students. That's all I can say. Because Stacy Scheff just got out of law school—and she is awesome—and got this crazy idea, and away we went. And it was a very interesting process of course. Because you go into court and there's all the mumbo jumbo about standing, and all these very dry legal precedent kinds of things. But in the meantime, we actually got everything we wanted. Because all of a sudden there was accountability for this practice in the state, publicly. So literally two days before Christmas of 2011 the state of Arizona released its very first biennial comparison of public and private prisons and the next day they cancel that RFP.
But of course, as we all know in this business these kinds of victories are extremely short lived. And so, roundabout February, they reissued the RFP for 2000 beds. So they did have to publicly acknowledge one of the things that we've been saying which is we don't need any more private prisons or any kind of prisons in Arizona because our prison population has been dropping for the last two years. But the push for this practice is so very strong—and I'll talk if I have a few more minutes a little bit about what we've learned as really what's behind a lot of this movement.
So we knew that when the state did this comparison review there would be certain, oh let's say, constraints on the Arizona Department of Corrections in terms of what they could really say and even look at in this review. And so being the uppity folks that we are, we decided to do our own comparison review of public and private prisons in Arizona. And a hundred pages later we've learned some very interesting things. And I just want to share with you some of the main findings in this report because I really think that these are something of a road map for other states to go home and look and say who's collecting this information here. Who is minding the store? Is our Department of Corrections looking at these prisons? Is anyone studying this issue? Because here they hadn't been. Even though it was in the law that they should have.
So one of the main findings that we found, and really critical to the bottom line of this issue, particularly for Arizona leaders, is that we are wasting money on privatization. Not just not saving money—which is what of course is the main promise that all these folks make it to your leadership—we are wasting money. We are overspending on our private prisons. Our Department of Corrections has actually done a cost comparison analysis of the public and private prisons for about six years and consistently found that those private prisons cost more than equivalent state run units. So in the past three years alone we overspent by $10 million on our private prisons in Arizona. And they want to build 5,000 more. So that's number one.
Number two, of course, are the security problems. And this is something that we see any time there's an article in the newspaper about a riot, an escape, an abuse scandal in a for-profit prison somewhere, you're going to find the same kinds of problems. They are understaffed. Their turnover rate is very high. They have a lot of green staff, so newly promoted folks don't quite really know the ropes yet. There aren't enough of them, and then when things go wrong they go spectacularly wrong because these folks are not prepared to handle what happens there. They're not trained well because this is where the corporations cut corners. Right? Is on staff being trained, primarily, and then also programs for the prisoners.
So you see these kinds of security problems throughout these facilities. And it was certainly found in Arizona's prisons. That this sort of frighteningly common finding of alarm systems that didn't work and hadn't been fixed. Because they're very expensive to fix or replace. Holes under the fence. In Kingman they actually found that the guards were propping the door open with a rock. Alarms that go off and everyone ignores them. Cameras that don't work, et cetera. And the staffing issues is another main finding that we found. The consistent understaffing and turnover in those facilities.
The lack of rehabilitation. The corporations that are operating private prisons in Arizona do not even bother to measure recidivism rates. We have asked them point blank, they say we don't even collect that data at all. So if this is your main measure of performance for a Correctional Institution, and they're not even collecting those numbers. I think that tells you something.
And then finally the issue of the corporate influence peddling in the state of Arizona that Bob talked a little bit about. There are several flavors of this. You've got the lobbying, the campaign contributions, and the revolving door between the public and private sector. And all of those examples that Bob pointed to are true in the state of Arizona. Of course our governor's top advisers were actively, or had been lobbyists for Corrections Corporation of America. MTC, which brought you the Kingman escapes that I mentioned, hired our former director of the Department of Corrections as a consultant during the bidding process. And on and on. And just a complete lack of accountability on so many levels. This report was extremely hard to do because this information not only isn't always being collected to begin with, but they don't have to tell you this stuff. Right? Because these are private corporations. Even though they're doing the job of the government with your money, they are not held at the same standards of accountability and transparency that state agencies are. So it's very hard to find out what's going on in these facilities. Who they are holding, what the conditions are, or anything else.
I'll just share one last anecdote to illustrate this and then turn it over to Carlos. So that statute that I mentioned that we sued the state over? It requires not only that private prisons demonstrate that they will save money but also that they'll do this comparison report every two years. Then in the budget process this past session in the state legislature, the criminal justice reconciliation budget bill included language that struck that statute from Arizona law. So our state leadership literally said, we don't want to know. We don't want to know if these prisons are saving money. We don't want to know if they're safe. We just don't care. So that is the power of this industry. And it can be overwhelming to think about. It can be very discouraging.
But there are ways for local organizing, for statewide organizing, for people like every single one of you in this room, to make a significant action in terms of exposing these practices, raising these questions, and holding these folks accountable. Because ultimately they really do work for you. So while I am the bearer of bad news in a lot of cases—like don't invite me to dinner parties. Everybody gets depressed. Oh, what do you do? Oh, private prisons. Great. Thanks. Look at the time—but the good news here is that we really can do this together. And so the one last bright note that I'll add is we went from 5,000 to an RFP for 2,000 beds. In this state budget process, while there was that bummer in there about removing the statute, the legislature's initial budget bill had no money for new prisons in it at all. They later came back with money for 1,000 beds. But 1,000 beds, we can work with that. We can work with that. So please, do not despair. There are ways to do this stuff if we all do it together. And so thank you for being here today.
CARLOS GARCIA: Hello everyone. My name is Carlos Garcia. I work here locally with the organization called Puente. I came to United States when I was five years old from Mexico. I grew up undocumented in Arizona, but then was fortunate enough to be adopted as a teenager. So I kind of lived through this whole experience my whole life. I had six people deported in my family. I kind of lived through this whole thing. Growing up in what we see now in Arizona there's a couple of policies—and I'll talk a little bit of our Arizona and how we got here and how this place is getting to be so horrible. Especially with migrants. There's a long history of colonization and bad things happening. But a lot of times I like to start with NAFTA.
Directly responding to NAFTA, the federal government had a policy called Operation Gatekeeper which created a funnel into Arizona. Which is basically militarizing California, New Mexico, making it harder for the folks to cross the border. Thinking that the deterrent was going to be the desert here in Arizona. There's no way people were going to cross the desert and risk their lives to come to the United States. They were obviously wrong and thousands of deaths later we see that this has now become a corridor. But with that same migration, there's also been migration from other places. This city as large and big as it, it's fairly new. Not a lot of people are from Arizona. So there was also migration from the East coast, from the Midwest of people that have never been around people like myself. And so then you create this is a place where you have these two communities that have never been around each other. And the result, all these laws to our pile and all these things happening.
A lot of folks—and I've said it a couple of times this week—a lot of folks on our side say there's no way you can deport 20 million people and so let's try to find some sort of solution. Arizona's actually presented a solution. It's found a way to get rid of undocumented people. Get rid of folks like myself in two ways. One, with laws such as SB 1070, English only, out-of-state tuition for undocumented students, no social services, all this long line of attrition strategy, with the purpose of making life so miserable for undocumented people that they would self-deport. And on the other hand, expanding their enforcement. Finding ways in which every police officer, every agency in the state, has the ability to detain individuals. That's what 1070 is set to do in this next week. But Joe Arpaio has now been doing it for the last four years.
So programs such a Secure Communities 287(g) is the ways that folks get trapped and brought in. It's the enforcement that brings people into these private detention centers and to the other jails that we have here. So, for example, Joe Arpaio does, as of getting this 287(g) in 2007, he starts doing two types of raids. One, going into businesses, just picking people up, dragging them in. ICE does this across the country. You've probably heard of those types of raids. Then he started doing the second type of raid which was community raids. He called them crime suppression sweeps. And what he did is send 200 of the sheriffs along with 200 deputized posse members, these are volunteers. The same folks we saw being Minutemen, protesting us, were now carrying guns and wearing badges for the Sheriff. So these 400 deputized officers, oftentimes wearing ski masks, they would set a perimeter and go into a migrant community and detain, stop, bring anyone in that looked undocumented. And obviously rampant racial profiling was happening, but also the dragnet and bringing people in started happening.
There's one case in 2009. One of the videos. We started doing response in videotaping that became really famous. We actually captured a family being separated. The mother was driving. The officer said she had her headlights off. He pulled her over. She was undocumented. They brought her in. And we were able to capture the two little kids as they were waiting. And these kids had some toys in their hands. And officers had given them toys. And at the time it was we're trying to videotape it. We thought it was OK. Right? That they gave them some toys. It's calming them down. But then thinking back, it's when that officer put the gun belt on. When he put this handcuffs on. He remembered to bring some toys, some teddy bears because he knew he might be separating the family. So that's also the idea we were working with.
In our organizing we respond to both of those strategies with an open hand and a closed fist, we like to call it. With the closed fist we do actions such as the one we're going to do tomorrow night, in asking to shut down Tent City. We do vigils. A lot of the stuff you've seen on TV. Holding campaigns to take away these ICE powers from Arpaio or shutting down a certain contract.
But with our open hand we work to counterbalance that attrition. To find ways to create community. To help them not be in a position where they would self-deport. With that organizing includes know your rights, English classes, house promoters, that sort of thing. Creating that support. But when you start creating that support, when you start asking people to exercise their rights, they end up in detention. Because that's what happens when you don't sign your deportation or you decide to exercise your rights. You end up in these detention centers. They end up filling up. So we started doing a lot more work around that.
I've known Bob for a long time and he's been talking about detention centers. But even myself, who's been doing this work for 10 years, wasn't fully into it until two years ago, when my first cousin who—people tell me I shouldn't be saying this but, first time I crossed the border, I crossed with his passport. He got detained. We're five months apart. Grew up together. And so then for a period of seven months I was at a detention center every Friday. Every Friday I started hearing the stories and started getting more immersed in the importance of closing these places down. In the importance of paying attention to that.
After that, I started—we have a program where we take children to visit their parents. Family members can't go visit people who are in detention. So I started taking these three little kids, along with my son—a four-year-old, a six-year-old, an eight-year-old, and then my five-year-old—we would all ride down every other Saturday. And it was the CCA facility in Eloy. Eloy and Florence have been mentioned earlier. Modern day penal colonies in the middle of the desert. It might as well be in Alaska because no one in Phoenix or Tucson, apart from the people doing the work, even realize that they're there. So we were driving down every other week. And while we were there, the mom would, with her commissary, she would put together all her buns and different cakes and create a big feast for us. It was great to see the kids spend that time with their mom, but when it came time to take them away, it was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to deal with. To take these three kids from their mother. She had been in there two and a half years. And the reason she had been caught is for working. Because she was working and doing what she had to do and using someone else's identity, she had been charged with a felony. Therefore, she was unable to bond herself out. Her youngest kid, her four-year-old, had lived half of his life without his mother. And they would depend on someone like myself, whether I had time or not, to take them to go see her. So every other Saturday, just watching them cry. Just watching them actually be separated from their mother not only in distance but even in emotion. I would see something. The younger kid would hardly listen to the mom. He'd run around. The mom would try to discipline. He wasn't listening. So how deep that connection is broken between the family just for her trying to work for them. It was really powerful and I carry that with me all the time.
I talked about CCA and their influence. And I'm going to show you a quick video soon. But just a couple of stories—The day 1070 was signed, we were outside the capital. We kept protesting at the capital trying to get it stopped. And the exact day that it was signed, CCA set up this huge tent to bring food for all the legislators. And fed them Mexican food and had a Mariachi out there. And it was so frustrating because we're out there protesting. Trying to find people. Trying to find people rides. Then you see this corporation come in, feed the legislators, have them speak, and just wine and dine them.
And then similar—We didn't get to talk about it. And I'm sure folks know about Streamline. It's a program and I'll go through it real quick. Basically, for the last four years now—correct me if I'm wrong—people have been criminally charged for entering and reentering the country. And so every day in Tucson anywhere from 60 to 100 people get charged and sent to these facilities. That's how these beds are kept. And Isabel Garcia, who was here yesterday, told me the story a couple months ago and I've been sharing it. You all remember the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. And in that shooting there was death to one of the judges. This judge was the presiding judge of Operation Streamline. Again, 60 to 100 people fresh for these detention centers. So obviously, the death happened and for a week the proceedings stopped. And so at least that saved those folks for that week. But then the following week, the proceedings were doubled. Where they did proceedings in the morning and in the afternoon to make sure to make up for those numbers that were lost the week before. So that's how influential and how much impact these corporations in these industries have for us here in Arizona.
Now I'll answer some questions and show the video real quick. But again, Arizona's leading the way in privatization not only in the prisons but in the schools. I mean in our state capital is now privatized. The legislators sold off two years ago and now lease it back from whoever they sold it to. So that's what's happening here in Arizona. And I'll be happy to answer some questions, and I'll show this video now.
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Last updated on Monday, March 25, 2013.
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