Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.
Let me stop you right there.
If you've never seen Dark Star, you have to. It's seriously awesome. Okay. Go on.
Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.
"The gentleman that's the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger," Nichols said. "He's a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman."
What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.
"They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community," Nichols said, "the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate."
But Nichols wasn't buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?
"They talked like they didn't have any doubt they could fill it," Nichols said.
That's because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona's immigration law.
Illegal immigration, you see, isn't just a politician's hobbyhorse to scare voters, but it's also big business.
One of my beefs with the political left is the notion that business is, basically in itself but especially in big corporations, inherently evil. As in this case, for real evil, you need the public sector. In 2010, the New York Times told us how this works:
NYT: Officials Hid Truth of Immigrant Deaths in Jail
Silence has long shrouded the men and women who die in the nation’s immigration jails. For years, they went uncounted and unnamed in the public record. Even in 2008, when The New York Times obtained and published a federal government list of such deaths, few facts were available about who these people were and how they died.
But behind the scenes, it is now clear, the deaths had already generated thousands of pages of government documents, including scathing investigative reports that were kept under wraps, and a trail of confidential memos and BlackBerry messages that show officials working to stymie outside inquiry.
A particularly gruesome example was showcased in 2010 in Idaho:
CorrectionsOne.com: ACLU suing Corrections Corp. of America
BOISE, Idaho — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing state prison officials and a private company, claiming violence is so rampant at the Idaho Correctional Center that it's known as "gladiator school" among inmates.
The ACLU said it would file the lawsuit Thursday against Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America in U.S. District Court in Boise.
The lawsuit says Idaho's only private prison is extraordinarily violent, with guards deliberately exposing inmates to brutal beatings from other prisoners as a management tool.
The group contends the prison then denies injured inmates medical care to save money and hide the extent of injuries.
These are, indeed, corporate dollars at work, but the immigrant scare has been worked up by politicians, and the contracts for these facilities are arranged and approved by politicians. So in that sense, my headline there is a bit of a provocation. What it should actually say is "your elected representatives at work".
Ha ha, say European readers. Those crazy Americans!
NYT: Companies Use Immigration Crackdown to Turn a Profit
Especially in Britain, the United States and Australia, governments of different stripes have increasingly looked to such companies to expand detention and show voters they are enforcing tougher immigration laws.
Some of the companies are huge — one is among the largest private employers in the world — and they say they are meeting demand faster and less expensively than the public sector could.
But the ballooning of privatized detention has been accompanied by scathing inspection reports, lawsuits and the documentation of widespread abuse and neglect, sometimes lethal. Human rights groups say detention has neither worked as a deterrent nor speeded deportation, as governments contend, and some worry about the creation of a “detention-industrial complex” with a momentum of its own.
So we're doing the same thing over here, as well.
I wrote about Finland's expanding private security sector earlier (in Finnish), and made the point that our problem isn't the privatization. Because especially this country woefully lacks any kind of real liberalism - in the classical sense - these days, the only people who draw attention to these abuses tend to be the leftists. For them, it's obvious that this is an example of how evil capitalism is. Because if only the state would run detention camps, then everything would be all right.
Yeah. And that's not just a joke, either.
Our problem is that our countries lack any kind of legal safeguards that would prevent public enforcement agencies and the private agencies they, in effect, deputize, from running over our civil rights. Even worse, our culture is permeated by racism, which tells us that whatever happens to people in immigration detention centers isn't any of our business, so not only are they deprived of their rights, but no-one here cares that they are. It's that racism, that lack of legal safeguards and that lack of caring that enables the policies and people who run the violent business of immigration today. In other words, it's us.