The Supreme Court reinvigorated the national conversation on immigration reform this week when it invalidated major parts of SB1070, the controversial immigration law that would have made unauthorized presence in the United States a state-level crime in Arizona. Regardless of political orientation or personal feelings on border issues, one must ask why Arizona lawmakers tried to make illegal immigration a state crime in the first place if all they claim to want is enforcement of federal immigration law?
Even if mainstream media sources have answered this question before, it deserves repeating for everyone too busy working or too fed up with political rhetoric to have heard it. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), in concert with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), drafted SB1070 to protect the profitability of private prisons funded with taxpayer dollars.
The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) generates billions of dollars nationally through contracts with state governments to replace state-owned prisons with private, for-profit facilities subsidized with state money. In addition to the half dozen existing CCA facilities in Arizona, pending contracts promise even more prisons and tens of millions of dollars more in revenue in the coming years. The industry also wields considerable lobbying power in Phoenix as Chuck Caughlin, Governor Jan Brewer's senior political adviser, owns the firm that represents CCA.
In addition, CCA works closely with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a policy shop where corporate lawyers and lobbyists collaborate with state legislators to produce "model" legislation for members to introduce in their home states. This network, which actively produces a blanket of industry-friendly laws nationwide, produced a model bill for CCA called the "No Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants Act" that was later introduced as SB1070 in Arizona.
SB1070 cannot be separated from its drafters, whose sole mission is to craft profitable legislation. The purpose of a state criminal designation for undocumented people is the diversion of immigrants into for-profit prisons and a tax-subsidized holding period before federal immigration proceedings can proceed. Not only was the law never about Arizona, it wasn't even written by or for Arizonans.
While the future of SB1070 and its copycat bills is unclear, Arizonans should take this time to appreciate that its laws are not being written by its elected officials. SB1070's authors were wealthy lobbyists who have invested heavily in influence over state legislators. Beyond SB1070 sponsor (and now recalled) State Senator Russell Pearce, at least 50 other Republicans in the Arizona State Legislature are on ALEC task forces, including House Speaker Andy Tobin, Senate President Steve Pierce, and the chairmen of both legislative appropriations committees, Sen. Don Shooter and Rep. John Kavanagh. Each of these officials simultaneously holds power over Arizona's tax dollars and membership in an organization designed to capture as much of that money as possible. They have also worked together to prevent any ethics reform that would require lawmakers to disclose gifts and "scholarships" associated with their membership in ALEC.
The reach of Arizona's ALEC bloc is hardly shortened by the Supreme Court ruling on SB1070. The Mitt Romney campaign has already endorsed the ALEC and CCA approach to immigration by tapping Kansas Secretary of State — and key legal mind behind SB1070 — Kris Kobach to be his immigration advisor. Additionally, in Arizona the Romney campaign enjoys a close relationship with Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who happens to be the chief elections officer in the state, an ALEC member and state co-chair for Romney For President.
The bottom line for Arizona after the last two years of division, humiliation and litigation over a law written to enrich out-of-state business interests at the expense of dignity is that all Americans deserve better than a legislature packed with lobbyists who pass bills written by out-of-state businessmen. We deserve real representation and our immigrant population should not have to fear incarceration simply because jailing them has become profitable.
Now is the time to take the power back from corrupt politicians, shady corporate organizations and the culture of fear that lead to the creation of SB1070.
For a breakdown of Arizona's legislative and business ties to ALEC, as well as language from the ALEC model bill that created SB1070, Click Here.