When Misery Means Profit: Immigration Enforcement, the Prison Industry and ALEC

In 2000, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 1,676,000 people attempting to enter the country without authorization, the highest number in nearly 15 years.  By 2010, a complex constellation of factors resulted in the number of apprehensions dropping to 463,382, a reduction of 72 percent in just a decade.  Despite the claims of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Border Patrol’s parent agency), this reduction in apprehensions does not simply indicate that border enforcement is now more “effective,” nor does it translate perfectly into a reduction in the number of people successfully entering the U.S.  Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that fewer people enter the country without documentation now than at most points in the past ten years.

Despite the decline in authorized entries, the militarization of the border and the criminalization of immigrant communities have continued to escalate dramatically since 2000.  The U.S.-Mexico borderlands, which could be accurately described a decade ago as a “low-intensity warzone,” are more militarized than at any point in history, now resembling more a full-fledged war than anything else.  The war’s antagonists are some 18,000 Border Patrol agents armed with tasers, M4 assault rifles and submachine guns.  The array of advanced technology available to Border Patrol now includes electronic surveillance equipment, unattended ground sensors, remotely-controlled drone aircraft, and Blackhawk helicopters.  Away from the border, the criminalization of immigrant communities results in hundreds of thousands of deportations every year.

Last year, while Border Patrol apprehensions arrived at a ten-year low, the state’s attacks on immigrants reached unprecedented scope and intensity.  In 2010, congress committed an additional $600 million for border enforcement to fund, among other things, 1,500 more Border Patrol agents.  In August, Obama deployed 1,200 National Guard troops to the border to assist with intelligence and logistics; they appear to be stationed here indefinitely.  In 2009, the Obama administration shattered the record for deportations in a single year, only to break it again last year by deporting nearly 400,000 people.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that Secure Communities will be mandatory by 2013, requiring every municipality in the country to submit the fingerprints of anyone they book to a federal immigration database.  Finally, at the state level, legislation allowing or requiring local police agencies to enforce immigration law – and many other legislative provisions targeting immigrants – proliferated throughout the country.

Why is this happening now?  Why is the expansion of border militarization and the persecution, imprisonment and deportation of immigrants at an all-time high, even as fewer people attempt to enter the country without authorization?

The answer to this question is nothing if not complex.  Undoubtedly implicated in the state’s unprecedented targeting of immigrants are a pervasive white-supremacist paradigm, the political capital to be cheaply won by scapegoating immigrants and a campaign of fear and misinformation that wildly distorts the reality of immigration and obscures its root causes.

However, one factor that increasingly dominates the priorities of border and immigration policy is the money that stands to be made from surveilling, apprehending, transporting, detaining, imprisoning and deporting immigrants.

In particular, the prison industry’s insatiable appetite for fresh bodies to fill its beds and cages is at the heart of the drive to criminalize immigrants.

 

The prison industry and immigration detention

The prison industry is booming.  State and federal jails in the U.S. have been stretched to their limits and beyond over the course of the past three decades in an attempt to accommodate the world’s largest prison population (nearly one-quarter of the world’s incarcerated population is locked up in the U.S.).  State and federal governments have simply been unable to build jails and prisons fast enough to keep pace with the expanding prison population and, since the mid 1980s, have turned to private prisons to house inmates.  Private prison firms generally charge a daily, per person rate and house inmates in their own privately-constructed facilities or in privately-run public prisons.  By late 2009, some 129,000 people were held in private prisons, including 16.4 percent of federal prisoners.  While the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. has increased by 13 percent since 2000, the number held in federal private facilities increased approximately 120 percent during this same time period.

The prison industry is dominated by its two largest players, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group, who collectively took in $2.9 billion in revenue in 2010.  CCA is the world’s largest private prison firm and operates 66 facilities in the U.S., 45 of which they own.  Fifty percent of CCA’s revenue comes from state contracts, with the bulk of the rest coming from contracts with three federal custodial agencies: the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), U.S. Marshalls and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  For its part, GEO Group operates 188 facilities throughout the world, with its U.S. units accounting for over 60 percent of the company’s total revenue.  Like CCA, GEO Group draws about half of its U.S. revenue from contracts with BOP, U.S. Marshalls and ICE and makes up the remaining 47 percent in state contracts.  In 2010, GEO Group purchased prison firm Cornell Companies, further consolidating the prison industry and bringing the majority of private prisons under direct control of GEO Group and CCA.

Immigrants are increasingly becoming fodder for the prison industry, particularly as the federal government aggressively pursues criminal charges against violators of immigration law through programs like Operation Streamline.  In fact, “illegal re-entry” is now the most commonly filed federal charge, making up nearly ¼ of all federal prosecutions.  Private prison corporations have regarded this shift toward mass criminal prosecution and sentencing of undocumented immigrants as an opportunity to expand their operations and increase their profits.  CCA has written that it expects “a significant portion of its revenues” to be derived from incarcerating immigrants and the president of GEO Group recently explained to investors that “Those people coming across the border and getting caught are going to have to be detained and…there’s going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do.”  For the prison industry, every new inmate means another bed filled and another per diem receipt to submit to the government.

Unsatisfied with simply waiting for their jails to fill with immigrants convicted of criminal offenses and those awaiting immigration proceedings, the prison industry has taken steps to ensure itself a steady stream of new prisoners.  CCA acknowledge this in its 2010 annual report, stating that the company continued “to pursue a number of initiatives intended to further increase [its] occupancy and revenue.”  Presumably, these “initiatives” can consist of only two things: on the supply side of the equation, building more prisons with more beds, and on the demand side, advocating for public policies which are likely to result in more people being incarcerated for longer periods.  As surely as CCA and GEO Group are building more prisons, they are working hard to win passage of laws that send more people to prison.

The prison industry has regularly sought to influence public policy at both the state and federal levels through campaign donations and lobbying efforts.  Each year, GEO Group and CCA spend an average of several hundred thousand dollars to employ lobbyists to advocate for their interests in congress.  Since 2003, CCA has spent upwards of $900,000 annually on federal lobbying.  The prison industry also intervenes even before candidates are elected, making campaign donations to buy the allegiance of elected officials.  In fact, 2010 represented a ten-year high in campaign contributions from the prison industry.  Tellingly, campaign donations do not seem to correlate with political ideology, but rather with who comes out on top: between 2003 and 2010, CCA, GEO and Cornell gave 75 percent of their donations to eventual election winners regardless of political party.  Furthermore, these campaign donations are primarily directed toward state candidates.  In the past ten years, CCA, GEO and the former Cornell Companies combined to contribute $835,514 to federal candidates and over seven times that amount ($6,092,331) to state candidates.  Campaign donations to state candidates of either political party appear to be an industry-favored method for funneling more people into private prisons.

The prison industry’s focus on influencing state legislation is reflected in its relationships and associations.  In fact, both CCA and GEO Group are members of the nation’s most powerful and influential advocate of anti-regulatory and industry-friendly legislation at the state level: the American Legislative Exchange Council.

 

The American Legislative Exchange Council

For the past two decades, the organization most directly involved in influencing state legislation related to sentencing and prisons is undoubtedly the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  ALEC bills itself as “the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators.”  In other words, ALEC provides a forum for corporate representatives to meet with conservative state legislators to develop strategy for advancing specific industry objectives.  Presently, ALEC is composed of nearly 2000 legislators, approximately 1/3 of all state lawmakers, as well as over 200 corporate and special interest “private sector” members.  ALEC maintains a 28 person paid staff, including the directors of the group’s nine task forces which are charged with developing and drafting “model legislation” to be carried back to legislators’ home states and enacted into law.

Although ALEC once sought funding from conservative foundations and individual donors, it now collects nearly all of its revenue from corporate sources.  Legislators pay just $50 a year to belong to ALEC and public sector contributions composed only 1.3 percent of ALEC’s revenue in 2008.  That same year, corporations generated 81.7 percent of the organization’s seven million dollar budget.  Private sector members pay between $7,000 and $25,000 to become ALEC members and are afforded greater access to the organization’s publications, events and conferences if they contribute more.  Corporate members may also pay between $2,500 and $10,000 to buy a seat on one of ALEC’s nine task forces, giving them a vote on which proposals become official model legislation.  Corporate members also fund “scholarships” for legislators to attend ALEC conferences and may choose to sponsor individual events like parties, day trips or golf tournaments at ALEC meetings.

Much of ALEC’s revenue goes toward hosting three national meetings each year: a Spring Task Force Summit, an Annual Meeting in August and a States and Nation Policy Summit in late November or early December.  While some key formalities play out at these meetings, chief among them the codification of model legislation, most of the details of strategy and proposals are hammered out in closed-door consultations with corporate executives, interest groups and lawyers.  Nonetheless, ALEC’s national meetings, described in ALEC literature as “networking opportunities,” appear to play a vital role in achieving the organization’s goals.  More important than the business conducted at ALEC meetings, it seems, are the golf and tennis tournaments, gourmet luncheons, open-bar parties, guided “spouse tours,” no-cost childcare and other forms of largesse lavished upon ALEC’s legislative members and their families.  ALEC meetings are hosted at hotels or resorts in cities known as popular travel destinations and legislators are encouraged to bring their families.  In essence, ALEC meetings provide industry representatives the opportunity to shower gifts on state legislators while introducing them to model legislation written by corporate lawyers and executives.

While ALEC’s 501(c)(3) status legally bars it from engaging in activities the IRS considers “lobbying,” ALEC’s corporate members are free to lobby and make campaign donations to ensure the model legislation they have written becomes state law.  For its part, ALEC works in other ways to advances its model legislation.  ALEC publishes reports, “scorecards” and “toolkits” based on the research of their staffers or conservative think tanks which they make available to legislative members.  In addition, ALEC may send staffers to testify before state legislatures on behalf of its model legislation.  In all of these “educational” activities, gems like this excerpt from an ALEC staffer’s email are about par for the course: “More people die from cold temperatures than heat: ‘… global warming could actually save lives.’”  ALEC, evidently, relies upon junk science and faulty reasoning to provide the window dressing for its otherwise nakedly corporatist agenda.

ALEC’s strategy of endorsing corporate-authored model legislation and supporting its passage in state legislatures has proven remarkably successful.  Every year, ALEC’s legislative members introduce hundreds of bills based on model legislation and ALEC boasts an average success rate of approximately 17 percent.  According to ALEC, 2009 saw its members introduce 826 bills and achieve enactment of 115 for a success rate of 14 percent.  Several states enacted as many as 8 pieces of ALEC-endorsed legislation and 38 states enacted at least one.  Some years, ALEC’s enactment rate has been as high as 38 percent, 20 points higher than the average for all state legislation.  Consequently, the list of state laws attributable to ALEC is exhaustive, including many laws infamous for their disastrous results.

ALEC has experienced particular success, and played a largely-unexamined yet crucial role, in passing legislation designed to promote incarceration and expand the prison industry.  At least one dozen companies that do prison business have been ALEC members over the past decade, including private prison firms like CCA, Geo Group and Wackenhut Corrections (now G4S); Sodexo Marriot (the largest provider of dining services to prisons); Turner Construction (the nation’s number one prison builder); telephone companies like AT&T and GTE (who vie for lucrative prison phone contracts); and drug companies including GlaxoSmithKline and Merck & Co.  Consequently, bills to lengthen prison sentences abound among ALEC model legislation and one ALEC staffer proudly claims that the organization “really took the forefront in promoting” incarceration during the 1990s.

ALEC’s accomplishments on behalf of the prison industry include the proliferation of truth-in-sentencing, three-strikes (or habitual offender), and mandatory minimum sentencing laws.  While ALEC didn’t invent any of these laws, they adopted each as model legislation and played a pivotal role in securing their enactment in states throughout the U.S.  In the early 1990s, the NRA, an ALEC member, initiated a campaign called CrimeStrike designed to win passage of ALEC’s “Truth in Sentencing Act” and “Habitual Violent Offender Incarceration Act” in state legislatures.  Between 1993 and 1995, truth-in-sentencing laws were adopted by twenty states and by 1998 ALEC could declare victory as truth-in-sentencing bills had become law in 40 states.  In addition, 25 states now have three-strikes laws similar to ALEC’s model legislation.  Of course, the result of this legislation is predicable and well documented: during the 1990s, prison construction boomed, the incarceration rate doubled driven by a prison population expansion of one-half million people and private jailers secured lucrative new contracts to house thousands of inmates from overcrowded public facilities.

In recent times, as the prison industry has begun to see its future in immigration detention, private prison firms have sought new ways to fill their prisons.  Over the past two years, the prison industry has worked closely with ALEC to promote legislation which would deputize local police to enforce immigration law, thereby creating a dragnet to funnel immigrants into their prisons.

 

SB1070’s Path to Law

Arizona’s SB1070 requires that state and municipal law enforcement officers ascertain the immigration status of anyone they detain or arrest who they suspect lacks federal authorization to be present in the U.S.  The name most closely associated with SB1070 is Russell Pearce, the Arizona state senator known for racialized and vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric and a nearly myopic focus on sponsoring legislative attacks on the state’s immigrant population.  In his senatorial biography, Pearce proudly proclaims himself “Arizona’s, and the nation’s, most outspoken advocate for stopping the illegal invasion, securing our borders and enforcing our laws.”  In his eleven year legislative tenure, Pearce has authored AZ Prop102 (2006) which denied punitive damages to undocumented individuals, AZ Prop 103 (2006) which made English the state’s official language  and HB 2779 (2007) which provided sanctions for employers with undocumented workers.  However, Pearce’s proudest accomplishment to date may be his sponsorship of SB1070, known in legislative doublespeak as the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, which he introduced in the Arizona state senate and shepherded to Governor Jan Brewer’s desk.

While Pearce’s legislative record reads like a xenophobic manifesto and can stand on its own as a testament to his commitment to white supremacism, Pearce has gone one step further by maintaining a public relationship with avowed racist, National Socialist Movement leader and border militiaman J.T. Ready.  In fact, it appears that Pearce not only coddled but mentored the budding young racist and political leader.  In 2004, Pearce attended Ready’s baptism into the Church of Latter Day Saints and later ordained the neo-nazi as an LDS elder.  A few years later, Pearce endorsed Ready’s campaign for Mesa City Council calling him “a true patriot.”  Sickeningly, Ready won a seat on the city council and Pearce joined him on stage several times at rallies during and after the successful campaign.

While Pearce now disavows Ready’s transparent nazism, he continues to advance the agenda of his white supremacist allies in the Arizona state legislature.  With the passage of SB1070 in 2010, Pearce emerged victorious from an effort that included many years of attempting to enact similar legislation.  Pearce co-sponsored a bill in 2003 designed to require local law enforcement to enforce immigration law and subsequently sponsored similar legislation in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.  However, none of these bills could muster the support necessary to win passage.  The bill that Pearce introduced as SB1070 in January of last year was similar to those that had failed in past years, but this time Pearce had secured the support of the nation’s most powerful advocate of corporate interests in state legislatures.

Russell Pearce is one of 36 Arizona state representatives (40 percent of the state legislature) who are ALEC members.  Pearce is also an executive member of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force along with private sector members CCA, the American Bail Coalition (which represents the nation’s largest bail/bond insurers) and the National Rifle Association (previously the task force’s private-sector chair).  The Public Safety and Elections Task Force is responsible for crafting model legislation related to bail, corrections and reentry, courts and sentencing, drugs, firearms, homeland security and prisons.

It was to this task force that Russell Pearce took his plans for what would become SB1070.  Pearce sought the consultation of Kris Kobach, a law professor long associated with the ultra-conservative, anti-immigrant organization, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).  While Kobach is largely credited with drafting the language of SB1070, Pearce also solicited feedback from CCA before bringing his proposal to ALEC.  Once satisfied with his legislation, Pearce introduced a draft to the Public Safety and Elections Task Force at ALEC’s States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington D.C. in December of 2009.  The approximately 50 people at that meeting included several CCA representatives and culminated in two votes – one by the public sector members and one by the private sector members – to approve the legislation.  According to Pearce, the decision was unanimous, without a single “no” vote.  After the formality of approval from ALEC’s board of directors, Pearce’s proposal was added to ALEC’s library of model legislation as the “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act.”

Next, Pearce brought the legislation back to Arizona.  As soon as Pearce introduced the bill in the state senate in January, the signs of a well-funded, coordinated effort to ensure the bill’s passage became apparent.  Quickly, there were 36 co-sponsors of the bill – a show of support rarely realized in the state legislature – two-thirds of them ALEC members.  That same week, CCA hired a new lobbyist to approach legislators in the Arizona state capitol.  Over the course of the next six months, 30 of the 36 co-sponsors of the bill would receive campaign donations from private prison lobbyists or corporations, including CCA, Geo Group and Management and Training Corporation.  The bill was on Governor Brewer’s desk by April and signed four days later.  Ultimately, the support of ALEC and the private prison industry allowed SB1070 to breeze through the legislative process in just three months, handing Pearce a victory he had sought for nearly a decade.

Following the initial success of SB1070 in Arizona, efforts to pass similar legislation emerged across the country.  By the end of the year, legislators had introduced similar bills in 24 states.  While most of these bills failed to pass before the end of the legislative session, Utah, Georgia and Alabama have all approved legislation which permits or requires local law enforcement to investigate the immigration status of individuals with whom they have contact.  Additionally, Indiana passed a law loaded with provisions attacking immigrant communities, but the language providing for local enforcement of federal immigration law included in the introduced legislation was removed before the bill was signed.  A number of bills remain active in other states and similar legislation will surely be reintroduced in legislatures throughout the country in years to come.

The passage of SB1070 and the proliferation of similar laws throughout the country are typical in many ways of ALEC-backed legislative initiatives.  First, the law was drafted, not by ALEC in any official capacity, but by a lawyer representing a conservative advocacy group and one of ALEC’s corporate members.  Second, much of the support for SB1070 in the Arizona state legislature was provided by ALEC’s legislative members and by those legislators who subsequently received campaign donations from lobbyists working for the affected industry.  Third, after the introduction and passage of SB1070 in Arizona, similar legislation began appearing (seemingly spontaneously) in states throughout the country.  Throughout the entire process, ALEC appears to have directly intervened very little or not at all.  The legislation was written outside of ALEC meetings, ALEC never attempted to lobby legislators directly and ALEC never took credit for the spread of their model legislation even as it was introduced in half of all state legislatures in a single year.

While ALEC works hard to remain in the background, the group is the tie that binds the nationwide push for local enforcement of immigration law.  ALEC is the forum that allowed for the networking, cooperation and strategizing necessary to launch an effort to simultaneously pass nearly identical legislation in 25 states on behalf of the prison industry.  Perhaps the only difference between this and other ALEC initiatives is the public scrutiny to which the organization’s role was subjected.  While a smattering of reports and news articles investigating ALEC have been published over the past two decades, never has ALEC been forced to endure the level of exposure prompted by National Public Radio and other sources reporting on the organization’s involvement in SB1070.

While ALEC has been able to weather and deflect much of the recent attention and is attempting to return to the obscurity it covets, there may be a growing understanding of ALEC as a dominant component of rightwing strategy in the U.S. and the most important meeting ground for corporate representatives and state legislators in the country.  Consequently, it seems to be a strategic moment for exposing, confronting and resisting ALEC and its prison industry members.

 

Confronting ALEC and the Prison Industrial Complex

Well over 100,000 people now find ways to survive under the lock and key of corporations like CCA and GEO Group.  For these companies, every person confined to a cage, every immigrant torn from their family, every new prison planned or cell constructed is a variable in a coldly-calculated equation designed to maximize profit.  The prison industry has a direct interest in promoting any policy which increases incarceration and opposing or marginalizing any alternative.  There is no natural end to the logic of the prison industry: if every new prisoner is just new revenue, why not find a way to double, or triple, the prison population?  The prison industry is founded on exploiting and profiting from misery and has shown itself more than willing to flex its muscle to expand its market.

Over the past two decades, The American Legislative Exchange Council has proven to be the prison industry’s best bet for sending more people to prison for longer periods of time.  While ALEC pushed three strikes and truth-in-sentencing laws in the 1990s, today it is aggressively pursuing policies that manufacture a larger prison population by targeting immigrants for arrest and incarceration.  Arizona’s SB1070 and similar legislation enacted or proposed in other states is the new face of prison profiteering and we can expect other laws criminalizing immigrants, at both the state and federal levels, to materialize in the years ahead.

So long as ALEC remains committed to being the prison industry’s biggest fan and most powerful ally – not to mention countless other examples of promoting the exploitation of people and the natural world – the organization should be the target of organized and uncompromising resistance.  While companies like CCA and GEO Group certainly deserve to be met with fierce resistance themselves, ALEC represents the unique opportunity to directly and simultaneously confront industry and the state while illuminating the ways in which each institution supports and defends the other.

Of course, there is nothing particularly shocking or unusual about ALEC’s existence, its purpose or its methods.  It is hardly news that those who benefit most acutely from capitalism routinely meet with representatives of the state to tweak and fine tune capitalism in order to expand their power and profit.  That they do so without the smallest sliver of concern for the wellbeing of the planet and most of its inhabitants is hopelessly apparent.  On a global scale, organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the G8 exist specifically to carve up the world to suit the interests of capital to the detriment of the rest of us.  What perhaps distinguishes ALEC is that it has managed to develop a highly successful model for molding the world to fit its design while avoiding the intense scrutiny afforded to its more wordly cousins like the WTO and IMF.

Throughout its history, ALEC has found obscurity and secrecy to be one of its biggest assets.  While a flurry of news articles and reports are issued every decade or so decrying ALEC’s lack of transparency and meddling in state affairs, the organization has managed to remain largely hidden from the public eye.  In fact, it is precisely this secrecy which has permitted ALEC to wreak havoc from state to state without, until very recently, so much as a hint of protest.  ALEC’s practice of forcing industry-friendly policies down the throats of people throughout the country makes secrecy a necessary cornerstone of ALEC’s strategy.

If secrecy is crucial to ALEC’s success, public exposure, scrutiny and critique should be central to any effort to cripple the organization and derail its agenda.  Exposing ALEC as a corporate farce that does little more than buy state legislators’ support for industry-authored legislation may be one effective may of undermining its ability to advance its goals.  In particular, ALEC’s long history of sending thousands of people to prison to pad the pockets of prison industry executives and its more recent role in criminalizing and incarcerating immigrants for the same purpose should be explained and placed center-stage.  Advancing a critique which draws clear connections between the state’s attacks on immigrant communities, private prison profiteering and ALEC may help delegitimize the organization while also challenging the state and the prison industry.

ALEC’s greatest fears, public exposure and scrutiny, are a good starting point when formulating the goals of organized resistance to ALEC.  A key medium-term goal might be delegitimizing ALEC by exposing its allegiance to private prison firms and, more generally, its role in allowing corporations to write the nation’s laws.  Other medium-term goals might include preventing the passage of any new ALEC model legislation and ultimately making ALEC’s activities impossible.

While short-term goals would be likely to center around promoting a diversity of tactics for shutting down ALEC summits and blocking implementation of specific pieces of ALEC legislation, these goals should be pursued with an eye towards exposing, delegitimizing and shutting down ALEC.  Although ALEC keeps a low profile and refuses to provide a roster of its legislative or corporate members, the names of ALEC’s state chairs are publicly available and many of its current and former corporate members are known.  Given that ALEC has representatives in every state, finding a local target should not be difficult.  Most importantly, ALEC meets three times each year, in large cities throughout the nation.  These “summits” might prove to be the best opportunities to directly confront and expose ALEC.

In some ways, ALEC resembles a domestic version of, say, the WTO.  Both are charged with rewriting state or national laws to make way for corporate expansion and exploitation of people and resources.  As global justice organizers learned after Seattle, achieving short-term tactical goals like shutting down a conference or meeting is rarely something that the state will permit more than once.  Nonetheless, pursuing such tactical goals may still produce equally disastrous effects for the targeted institution.  While no policy summit was disrupted on the scale of Seattle thereafter, the movement unexpectedly achieved its medium-term goals quite quickly.  Within a few years of Seattle, the medium-term goals of disrupting future trade agreements and delegitimizing the WTO and IMF had been largely achieved.  In the case of ALEC, this same pattern may hold true.  While this is hopeful, it also suggests the need to be prepared to link ALEC back to the long-term struggle against borders, prisons and capitalism.

 

Conclusion

All borders are prisons.  This is perhaps most obvious in, say, the Gaza Strip where the “world’s largest open-air prison” holds 1.7 million Palestinian people between borders enforced by a brutal blockade and ruthlessly policed by the Israeli Defense Force.  But borders resemble prisons everywhere they appear; every border denies people access to the resources they need to live dignified lives, separates families, siblings, lovers, friends and comrades from one another, restricts the freedom of movement of entire populations, maintains and justifies crippling inequalities and systems of oppression and recreates and reinforces false and arbitrary divisions between human beings.  Much as a prison riot or jail break is inevitably met with swift and brutal repression from the guards, an assault on the sanctity of borders is sure to result in some form of extreme violence, most often the routinized violence of imprisonment and deportation.

Increasingly, borders are made real through the threat of prosecution and incarceration.  Without prisons, borders are unenforceable, unintelligible, unimaginable.  Therefore, it is impossible to speak of abolishing borders without in the same breath talking about abolishing prisons.  Likewise, every step toward prison abolition is a step toward border abolition and freedom of human movement.  For this reason, resistance to prisons, particularly private prisons with their sights set on imprisoning the entire world, must be considered a crucial element of any long-term strategy for border abolition.

The border is everywhere.  As surely as it is here in the deserts of southern Arizona, the border is in every cell of every prison, public or private, in every state in the country, including the county jail, state prison or private detention facility in your community.  The border is there in every cubicle in every office of every private prison firm that reaps profit from its inmates’ misery.  The border is there in the halls of the capitol building that sits on a hill somewhere in a big city near you.  And the border is there in every meeting and luncheon, every boardroom and ballroom of every national meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

We need to be there too.

 

Contact the author at dinosaurjailbreak@riseup.net.

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