Immigration and the prison lobby

It wrote Arizona’s Immigration Law. But does anyone really care? You should.

Mike Munzenrider

ItâÄôs no huge secret that important news stories often get buried in the coverage of other concurring events. This past election cycle proved to be a smothering force, relegating other stories to the peripheral. One such story was National Public RadioâÄôs recent report on the connection between the American Legislative Exchange Council and ArizonaâÄôs controversial new immigration law.
ItâÄôs also no huge secret that legislation is often influenced and buttressed along by outside groups. However, in the case of the immigration law, which mandates the imprisonment by Arizona police of anyone who cannot prove that they are in the country legally, ALECâÄôs influence and indeed the process by which the law came to be is more alarming than usual.
As the story goes, the law came to be âÄî almost word for word as itâÄôs on the books now âÄî at an ALEC meeting this past December in Washington, D.C. It was attended by Arizona state legislators, representatives of lobbying groups and corporations. One of the corporations represented was the Corrections Corporation of America. As stated in the NPR report, it is âÄúthe largest private prison company in the country.âÄù
Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce takes credit for coming up with the law. At the ALEC meeting, he says, âÄúI did a presentation âĦ I went through the facts. I went through the impacts and they said, âÄòYeah.âÄô âÄù Pearce is on record stating that the legislation is about the preservation of law and order, not filling prisons, but that is a dubious assertion.
Following the Pearce presentation, the attendees of the meeting, which included two representatives of the Corrections Corporation of America, decided to turn the Pearce idea into a âÄúmodel bill.âÄù Here, they essentially wrote the bill, hammering out how it was to be worded. Eventually they voted unanimously to make it a model bill.
When the bill was introduced to the Arizona Senate, it immediately gained the support of 36 co-sponsors âÄî an unusually large show of support. NPR found that two-thirds of those co-sponsors had attended the December ALEC meeting, or were members of the group. Following that backing, 30 of the 36 co-sponsors received donations from prison companies or prison lobbies.
Soon, ArizonaâÄôs Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law. She too has ties to the private prison industry; two of her advisors are former lobbyists within it.
From top to bottom, those involved with the inception of the immigration law deny that it was created as a cash cow for the private prison industry. Indeed, the phrase âÄúplausible deniabilityâÄù seems to have been written for this situation. However, where thereâÄôs smoke, usually thereâÄôs fire âÄî though beyond NPR little of the media seems compelled to dig deeper into this story. Many Google News searches prove that few other outfits have picked up the story, or done original reporting.
As stated, knowing that legislation is a sloppy business is no secret. However, when the curtains are pulled back to show such a degree of corporate influence âÄî all in the interest of imprisoning people, lawfully or not âÄî one must take notice and demand greater scrutiny.
While this may seem like worlds away, who is to say that similar processes donâÄôt take place shaping legislation that affects our lives? How and why do cuts to higher education funding take place, and who is really to benefit?
This is not the lament of a naïve observer, but a concerned citizen. We have to ask questions and demand that the media provides answers.