A large community meeting held Saturday afternoon in Bloomington revealed how immigrant rights is central to struggles for economic and social justice in the United States.
The meeting was organized by Latinos United for Change (L.U.C.) and Illinois People’s Action (IPA), bringing together over 90 people to learn about the economic and social context of immigration law and to discuss what can be done to oppose increased enforcement trends in McLean County and in the nation.
The national trend toward increased enforcement of immigration law has hurt immigrants in McLean County.
In March of this year, McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery changed department policy and ordered the reporting of all non-U.S. born people, when arrested or stopped by police, to the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Reporting occurs for any crime, including misdemeanor moving violations, and ICE could choose whether or not to detain reported individuals. The changed policy has resulted in 63 people reported to ICE in four months, causing greater apprehension and fear in the Latino community.
The increased enforcement in McLean County is part of a national wave of attacks against immigrants this past year, beginning with Arizona’s draconian law SB 1070. This law established increased enforcement measures in Arizona, requiring police officers to check immigration status during stops and punishing citizens sheltering undocumented immigrants. SB 1070 soon led to copycat legislation spreading to other states. The very worst attack came recently when Alabama passed legislation that denies social services and education to undocumented immigrants and their children.
Meanwhile, deportations under Obama have passed the 1 million mark, set to top Bush’s two-term record in just one term.
In response to these attacks, immigrants and their allies have stepped up political activity. Many have pointed out that immigrant workers are a geographically displaced people as a result of economic policies put in place by business – multinational corporations, domestic businesses, and the big banks.
Current immigration policy only benefits the 1% and hurts workers of all countries. Multinational corporations are permitted – under free trade rules negotiated by elites – to cross borders easily and take advantage of the lowest wages paid to workers, setting countries in competition and depressing wages globally in a race to the bottom. When people then understandably cross borders to look for a better livelihood, U.S. companies take advantage of immigrants’ lack of rights, exploiting them for profit.
Giant agribusiness in the U.S., subsidized by the government, is permitted to dump corn in Mexico under free trade rules, decimating Mexican agriculture and increasing the number of people in Mexico looking for employment. This causes unemployment, stagnation in wages, and migration of displaced Mexican farmers.
Immigrants and their allies point to this unjust economic system that allows for the free movement of corporations and commodities across national borders, while denying workers the same right of movement. In an economy where capital has free rein to move and dominate economies, it is morally reprehensible to deny rights to workers who move in response to job destruction and wage stagnation unleashed globally by destructive business practices.
In Saturday’s meeting, Jennifer Carrillo of L.U.C. outlined in detail just how devious corporations are in exploiting this unjust economic system and immigration law.
One of the main beneficiaries of increased immigration enforcement is the private prison industry, which brings in billions of dollars of profit a year from government contracts, financed by taxpayer money. Two corporations, the GEO group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), account for 80% of private prison beds.
Ms. Carrillo detailed the connections between the private prison industry, right-wing corporate interests, and the government.
In 2006, Bush implemented a policy requiring immigrants waiting deportation hearings to be held in detainment centers. The Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency signed costly contracts with CCA and other private prison firms to provide the extra prison beds.
The stock of Corrections Corporation of America shot up by 27% as Wall Street advisors recommended its stock to institutional investors, including of course the big banks. In December, 2010, Wells Fargo had mutual fund investments of $5.9 million in CCA and $88.7 million in the GEO group.
As a result of their pursuit for profit, the private prison industry has a strong economic interest in maintaining the status quo of current immigration policy. Corrections Corporation of America has doubled lobbying efforts, creating anti-immigrant legislation that ensures a steady stream of detainees. CCA also helped secure passage of Arizona’s SB 1070 and actually wrote language for the bill, helped by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
As explained by Ms. Carrillo, the private prison industry is one good example of how the immigration system benefits business but is broken for the rest of us. Business benefits from the labor of immigrants, which it is able to exploit more effectively when immigrant workers have no rights.
That is one reason why immigrants and allies demand full rights, including the right to free movement and citizenship. No one is illegal.
Participants of the community meeting strategized on how to counter current trends.
Immigrants are getting their word out to the public, building their base in the community, to achieve their goals. In the meeting, a number of testimonies were read, showing how increased enforcement has negatively affected the lives of immigrants and their families. Mary Cunningham of IPA is compiling testimonies on her blog Victims of Secure Communities.
The L.U.C. meeting concluded with a report back from recent meetings held with McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery and a presentation of what can be done locally to address changed police policy. Laurie Bergner of IPA reported the gathered statistics and relayed the sheriff’s intention to continue cooperating with ICE. A political action plan was outlined by L.U.C. and IPA that included at the local level a city ordinance that would withdraw cooperation with ICE, the passage of law at the state level that would allow immigrants to obtain driver certificates, and a push for immigration reform at the federal level.
Occupy BloNo is continuing the discussion of immigration policy and the private prison industry with its AWAKE film series presentation of “Lost in Detention.” There are two showings of the film, first on Wednesday, December 7th, 7 pm at Feed the Need, behind the Market St. Market (1002 W. Market St., Bloomington), and the second on Friday, December 9th, 6 pm on the ISU campus, Schroeder Hall, room 242.
The following video, shown during Jenn Carrillo’s presentation, highlights the role of the private prison industry in this exploitative system.