Several days have now passed since Alabama's anti-immigration law, the harshest and most abusive in the nation, came into full effect. HB 56, a de facto criminalization of migration, replaces any sensible immigration policy with the favorite solution these days: let's put them behind bars- and we might as well make a profit out of it.
The negative consequences of such shameful legislation have been felt immediately. Within hours, it had claimed its first victims - from the detention of a man who later turned out to be residing legally, to the massive fleeing of migrant workers and school children, to even cutting off water services to families or individuals who can't prove their legal status. It is the most draconian and oppressive set of provisions that this country, which claims to be the bastion of liberties and rights, has seen since the era of segregation.
Because anyone lacking the proper immigration papers is considered to be committing a crime, also entering into a "business transaction" with the individual in question would prompt criminal charges. The pressure to enact and enforce anti-immigration law has left state and local police officers and government agents and officials in a bind. Already struggling to meet demands, with shortened budgets and staff, these agencies must now devise ways to comply with the new set of measures. And at present, these often lead to confusion as to when, how, where and to whom to apply the law.
A consequence of this chaos, though, is that we're seeing absurd and flat out racist applications of the law. A hotline set up by an immigrant protection group has received more than 2,000 phone calls from families in dire need. The pleas range from mothers trying to place their children in safe protection while they look to flee the state, to students being questioned at schools and accounts of abuse and harassment. It is not clear yet how many have been or will be arrested under this provision, but the number will surely make one sector happy: private detention facilities.
Yes, Alabama will have to go that route. In fact, it already has. Not only will this law supply fresh inmates to private detention centers in the state - like the one operated in Decatur by LCS correctional corporation - but it will also feed an already bloated national private prison system controlled by two major corporations, CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO group, which have a combined profit of more than $5bn a year. CCA, for example, runs the largest facility in the nation in neighboring Georgia and may potentially take a good portion of the detainees in Alabama. Charging $200 a night, this is an opportunity they'll jump at.
The difference between Alabama and adjoining states is that it is willing to go further down this track. Recently, John McMillan, agriculture commissioner, proposed that the farm work left behind by immigrant workers be supplied with inmate labor. Decatur, a private detention center about 50 miles to the north-west of Alabama, which had been unable to find jobs for inmates, has now witnessed record numbers of requests for labor (for an estimated 150 detainees a day).
So, here is how it goes. First, the state passes a harsh immigration law. Then, it detains large numbers of immigrants. Third, private prisons (LCS, CCA, GEO) receive fresh inmates. And finally, the artificially created labor shortage is supplied by the new inmates. Does this sound like modern-day slavery to anyone?
The rest of the country can only look in shock and dismay, as once again, Alabama, a state renowned for its historical role in racism, segregation and slavery, leads the nation into another round of shame.