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Immigrant Rights

Obama Memo Deferring Some Deportations Not a Victory For Latinos, Immigrants or Human Rights

Professional Latino leaders, tied hand and foot to corporate donors and the Democratic party, are celebrating the president's announcement that a small number of the undocumented will be eligible for deferral of their deportations. But is this really a victory for all immigrants or just those on the way to college and the military.

By Black Agenda Report managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

“ qualify for deferral of your deportation, you can't have felonies or even “significant misdemeanors” on your record...”

Last week's presidential announcement that “prosecutorial discretion” would be exercised to halt deportation proceedings against young undocumented persons with spotless police records and honorably discharged veterans was neither a sign of growing presidential enlightenment, nor was it any kind of major victory for the human rights, Latino or immigrant rights movements.

First of all, it was not an executive order, a thing that federal agencies are bound by law to carry out. It was a presidential announcement accompanied by a low-level memo. Two similar memos have been issued by this administration before, with similar hype from the White House and identical celebrations by immigrant rights activists. Both were disregarded by ICE, the Bureau of Immigration, Customs and Enforcement, which just kept on deporting everyone it could lay hands on.

Secondly, to get your deportation proceedings deferred under the memo you have to come out of the shadows, register as an out-of-status person and wait to see if “prosecutorial discretion” will be applied to your case. It might or might not. There's no appeal, and once you register they know who and where you are. Good luck with that.

Third, the memo says that to qualify for deferral of your deportation, you can't have felonies or even “significant misdemeanors” on your record. That's not just a high standard, it's a brand new one that lawyers and judges have not yet defined. Many Latino immigrants live in communities where racially selective saturation policing bestows police records upon disproportionate numbers of young males.

Fourth, most of the million-plus already deported by the Obama Administration were never college grads, college students, college-bound or vets. They were ordinary working people and their families. The memo being celebrated by immigrant reform activists does nothing to slow down their deportations. College graduation, in the US has become a kind of class distinction, and the immigration reform movement and Democratic Latino leaders seem to be acting in the interest of one class of immigrants while abandoning the needs of the rest.

“...since the Obama administration itself initiated the most massive wave of deportations in US history, it also could have stopped them six months, a year, two years ago....”

Fifth, immigration reform activists and their allies rarely mention that as the DREAM Act as presently written makes joining the military as a road to citizenship a much easier path than college. Page 12 of the Pentagon's FY 2012 Strategic Plan states that to achieve its manpower goals it needs access to immigrant populations. This may be the real point of the DREAM Act.

Sixth, since the Obama administration itself initiated the most massive wave of deportations in US history, it also could have stopped them six months, a year, two years ago. So calling press conferences, as Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez did, to thank the Obama Administration for maybe stopping deportations just of vets and college-bound youth with spotless records is like expressing sincere gratitude to a brutal assailant who's beat every square inch of your body the last three years, when he announces he might start going easy on the head and groin shots from now on. If you ask him nicely.

This is not a victory for the human dignity of immigrants. It's a no-cost cynical ploy by the Obama Administration a few months before the election to shore up his sagging support in the Latino community. In 2008 Obama received more than two thirds of an abnormally large Latino vote, which made the difference in several states.

The White House knows what it needs and is going for that. The Latino and immigrants rights communities ought to do the same. For Black Agenda Radio I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works in Marietta GA, and is a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site's contact page or at bruce.dixon(at)


Undocumented Immigrants Paid $11.2 Billion In Taxes While GE Paid Nothing

By Mike Elk
Think Progress, April 22, 2012

This past month, there was much outrage over the fact that General Electric, despite making $14.2 billion in profits, paid zero U.S. taxes in 2010. General Electric actually received tax credits of $3.2 billion from American taxpayers.

At the same time that General Electric was not paying taxes, many undocumented immigrants, who are typically accused of taking advantage of the system while not contributing to it by many on the right, paid $11.2 billion in taxes. A new study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy shows that undocumented immigrants paid $8.4 billion in sales taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $1.2 billion in personal income taxes last year. The study also estimates that nearly half of all undocumented immigrants pay income taxes.

ITEP bases its figures of what immigrants pay taxes based on the following factors:

Sales tax is automatic, so it is assumed that unauthorized residents would pay sales tax at similar rates to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants with similar income levels.

Similar to sales tax, property taxes are hard to avoid, and unauthorized immigrants are assumed to pay the same property taxes as others with the same income level. ITEP assumes that most unauthorized immigrants are renters, and only calculates the taxes paid by renters.

Income tax contributions by the unauthorized population are less comparable to other populations because many unauthorized immigrants work “off the books” and income taxes are not automatically withheld from their paychecks. ITEP conservatively estimates that 50 percent of unauthorized immigrants are paying income taxes.

While it’s impossible to estimate exactly how much in taxes undocumented immigrants paid, it is clear that undocumented immigrants are paying more taxes than General Electric, which paid absolutely nothing. This raises the question of who really is leaching off the American system: undocumented immigrants who pay their taxes and are typically too afraid of being deported to receive public assistance or corporations that pay nothing while receiving billions in credits.

Mike Elk, a freelance labor journalist and third generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him for more updates on twitter at @MikeElk.


Immigrants prove big business for prison companies

By Laura Wides-Munoz
The Associated Press, August 2, 2012

MIAMI — The U.S. is locking up more illegal immigrants than ever, generating lucrative profits for the nation’s largest prison companies, and an Associated Press review shows the businesses have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers and contributing to campaigns.

The cost to American taxpayers is on track to top $2 billion for this year, and the companies are expecting their biggest cut of that yet in the next few years thanks to government plans for new facilities to house the 400,000 immigrants detained annually.

After a decade of expansion, the sprawling, private system runs detention centers everywhere from a Denver suburb to an industrial area flanking Newark’s airport, and is largely controlled by just three companies.

The growth is far from over, despite the sheer drop in illegal immigration in recent years.

In 2011, nearly half the beds in the nation’s civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight, up from just 10 percent a decade ago.

The companies also have raked in cash from subsidiaries that provide health care and transportation. And they are holding more immigrants convicted of federal crimes in their privately-run prisons.

The financial boom, which has helped save some of these companies from the brink of bankruptcy, has occurred even though federal officials acknowledge privatization isn’t necessarily cheaper.

This seismic shift toward a privatized system happened quietly. While Congress’ unsuccessful efforts to overhaul immigration laws drew headlines and sparked massive demonstrations, lawmakers’ negotiations to boost detention dollars received far less attention.

The industry’s giants — Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. — have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found.

CCA and GEO, who manage most private detention centers, insist they aren’t trying to influence immigration policy to make more money, and their lobbying and campaign donations have been legal.

“As a matter of long-standing corporate policy, CCA does not lobby on issues that would determine the basis for an individual’s detention or incarceration,” CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an email to the AP. The company has a website dedicated to debunking such allegations.

GEO, which was part of The Wackenhut Corp. security firm until 2003, and Management and Training Corp. declined repeated interview requests.

Advocates for immigrants are skeptical of claims that the lobbying is not meant to influence policy.

“That’s a lot of money to listen quietly,” said Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, who has helped lead a campaign to encourage large banks and mutual funds to divest from the prison companies.

The detention centers are located in cities and remote areas alike, often in low-slung buildings surrounded by chain-link fences and razor wire. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents detain men, women and children suspected of violating civil immigration laws at these facilities. Most of those held at the 250 sites nationwide are illegal immigrants awaiting deportation, but some green card holders, asylum seekers and others are also there.

The total average nightly cost to taxpayers to detain an illegal immigrant, including health care and guards’ salaries, is about $166, ICE confirmed only after the AP calculated that figure and presented it to the agency.

That’s up from $80 in 2004. ICE said the $80 didn’t include all of the same costs but declined to provide details.

Pedro Guzman is among those who have passed through the private detention centers. He was brought to the U.S. by his Guatemalan mother at age 8. He was working and living here legally under temporary protected status but was detained after missing an appearance for an asylum application his mother had filed for him. Officials ordered him deported.

Although he was married to a U.S. citizen, ICE considered him a flight risk and locked him up in 2009: first at a private detention facility run by CCA in Gainesville, Ga., and eventually at CCA’s Stewart Detention Center, south of Atlanta. Guzman spent 19 months in Stewart until he was finally granted legal permanent residency.

“It’s a millionaire’s business, and they are living off profits from each one of the people who go through there every single night,” said Guzman, now a cable installer in Durham, N.C. “It’s our money that we earn as taxpayers every day that goes to finance this.”

The federal government stepped up detentions of illegal immigrants in the 1990s, as the number of people crossing the border soared. In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring many more illegal immigrants be locked up. But it wasn’t until 2005 — as the corrections companies’ lobbying efforts reached their zenith — that ICE got a major boost. Between 2005 and 2007, the agency’s budget jumped from $3.5 billion to $4.7 billion, adding more than $5 million for custody operations.

Dora Schriro, who in 2009 reviewed the nation’s detention system at the request of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said nearly every aspect had been outsourced.

“ICE was always relying on others for responsibilities that are fundamentally those of the government,” said Schriro, now the New York City Correction Commissioner. “If you don’t have the competency to know what is a fair price to ask and negotiate the most favorable rates for the best service, then the likelihood that you are going to overspend is greater.”

Private companies argue they can save Americans money by running the centers more cheaply.

Pablo Paez, a spokesman for Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO, said in an email his company supports public-private partnerships which “have been demonstrated to achieve significant cost savings for the taxpayers.” He declined to answer specific questions.

But ICE Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations Gary Mead said the government has never studied whether privatizing immigrant detention saves money.

“They are not our most expensive, they are not our cheapest” facilities, he said. “At some point cost cannot be the only factor.”

One fundamental difference between private detention facilities and their publicly-run counterparts is transparency. The private ones don’t have to follow the same public records and access requirements.

President Barack Obama has asked for less detention money this year and encouraged the agency to look at alternatives to locking people up. He also ordered DHS to stop deporting young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally, which could reduce the number behind bars. Congress, however, can approve more detention spending than DHS requests.

Beyond civil detention centers, private companies are also making more money locking up non-citizens who commit federal crimes.

To deter illegal border crossers, federal prosecutors are increasingly charging immigrants with felonies for repeatedly entering the country without papers. That has led thousands of people convicted of illegal re-entry, as well as more serious federal offenses, to serve time in private prisons built just for them.

A decade ago, more than 3,300 criminal immigrants were sent to private prisons under two 10-year contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons signed with CCA worth $760 million. Now, the agency is paying the private companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through 13 contracts of varying lengths.

CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 due to lawsuits, management problems and dwindling contracts. Last year, the company reaped $162 million in net income. Federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues, in part thanks to rising immigrant detention.

GEO, which cites the immigration agency as its largest client, saw its net income jump from $16.9 million to $78.6 million since 2000.

“Another factor driving growth … for the private sector is in the area of immigration and illegal immigration specifically,” Chief Financial Officer Brian Evans told investors in GEO’s 2011 3rd quarter earnings call.

CCA warned in its 2011 annual earnings report that federal policy changes in “illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

Utah-based Management and Training is not publicly held, so it does not post earnings.

At just the federal level, these companies, their political action committees and their employees have spent more than $32 million on lobbying and on campaign contributions since 2000 — with the national political parties getting the largest campaign contributions.

An AP review of Federal Election Commission data found the prison companies and their employees gave to key congressional leaders who control how much money goes to run the nation’s detention centers and who influence how many contracts go to the private sector.

James Thurber, head of American University’s Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies, said amid the heated national debate over immigration, the companies have been savvy not to donate heavily to those sponsoring legislation, which could spark backlash.

There are more discrete and more powerful ways to influence policy, Thurber said. “Follow the money,” he said. “If the money is being increased significantly for illegal immigration, then that is a shift in policy … a significant shift.”

The top beneficiaries of the campaign contributions include:

— The Republican Party. Its national and congressional committees received around $450,000. Democrats received less than half that.

— Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. He received $71,000, mostly during his failed presidential bid against Obama, well after he dropped support for a bill that would have given illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and reduced detentions.

— House Speaker John Boehner received $63,000.

—Kentucky U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers received about $59,000. Rogers chaired the first subcommittee on Homeland Security and heads the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He often criticizes ICE for not filling more detention beds.

— Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. He received $58,500. The lawmaker from Tennessee, where CCA is headquartered, led the Senate at the height of the nation’s immigrant detention build up from 2003 to 2007.

More than campaign contributions, though, the private prison companies spent most of their money each year on lobbying in Washington, peaking in 2005 when they spent $5 million.

In just 2011, CCA paid the Washington firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld $280,000 in part to “monitor immigration reform,” federal reports show.

They also lobbied heavily against a bill that would force them to comply with the same open records requirements governing public facilities.

Owen, the CCA spokesman, said the company ramped up lobbying to acquaint new lawmakers with the industry.

“In recent years, federal elections have been very volatile, resulting in a lot of new faces in Washington,” he said. “The result of that volatility means a lot of people at the federal level who may not be familiar with the work we do.”

The prison companies’ influence at the state level mirrors that in Washington, although the money is even harder to track since many states, such as Arizona and Illinois, where the companies have won lucrative detention contracts, don’t require corporations to disclose what they pay lobbyists.

The AP reviewed campaign contribution data from the three companies’ political action committees and their employees over the last decade, compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. From 2003 to the first half of 2012, state candidates and political parties in the 50 states received more than $5.32 million.

In the 10 states where the companies’ committees and employees contributed the most, the AP found they also spent at least $8 million more lobbying local officials in the last five years alone. It is impossible to know how much of this lobbying money was aimed only at immigrant-related contracts. But that money generally went to states along the border, such as Florida and Texas, which have high numbers of immigrants, as well as states such as Georgia and Louisiana, where large numbers of immigrants also are detained.

ICE has begun providing more oversight as part of the Obama administration’s pledge to overhaul the nation’s system for jailing immigration offenders. It recently scrapped plans for CCA to build a 1,500-bed immigrant detention center in a high-end Miami suburb following months of local protests.

But it remains committed to adding more private beds. Plans are on track to build or expand private immigration jails in Newark, N.J., in the suburbs of Chicago and along a lonely stretch of California’s Mojave Desert.

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