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The DREAM 9 and Torture in Immigration Detention Centers

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"Several female inmates, including myself, have not been able to make calls to our attorney, family and friends... Also several inmates have been advised/warned/intimidated by CCA [Correction Corporation of America] staff not to speak, communicate or interact with myself. Today... inmate Maria and myself announced out loud that we were distributing a free legal hotline number for the female inmates who could not afford and did not have legal representation. We also communicated that if they were being treated unjustly they had the right to speak up... We were then escorted out of the eating area and the other female inmates were not allowed to leave."

This is from the disciplinary report written on Lizbeth Mateo and Lulú Martínez at Eloy Detention Center after Lizbeth and Lulú informed some of the inmates of their rights. For this, they received a sentence of 15 days solitary confinement.

On July 22, Lizbeth Mateo, Lulú Martínez and Marco Saavedra, members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), crossed the border into Mexico to see their family. Although they qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), they have not received it, and have no legal status in the United States. When they attempted to reenter the United States with six deported DREAMers through a legal point of entry at Nogales, they were detained at Eloy Detention Center, owned by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

Looking at the solitary confinement that Lizbeth Mateo and Lulú Martínez now face, the ACLU, Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and many other human rights organizations decry this practice as a violation of basic human rights.

"Based on years of research and analysis, we are convinced the unnecessary, counter-productive, and devastating use of this harsh form of confinement in many US prisons cannot be squared with respect for human rights," said Human Rights Watch, after submitting the report "Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences" to the U.S. Senate during a hearing on solitary confinement last year.

"It must be impressed upon this detainee that misconduct of this nature will not be tolerated... This sanction is recommended to hopefully deter this detainee and others from future misconduct of this nature." These words, which summon memories of reports from 19th century madhouses where human beings would often be discarded, were given to explain their solitary confinement sentence that human rights organizations overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, decry.

To begin to understand the implications and politics of the conditions of this group of nine young undocumented immigrants, the DREAM 9, we must take a brief look at the condition of corporate immigration detention centers in the United States.

Much like non-immigrant prisons, many immigrant detention centers are privately owned. The contracts between the Federal Bureau of Prisons and private companies totals $5.1 billion; this creates a multibillion-dollar industry whose fiduciary obligation it is to try to cut every corner to reduce costs, drain the state for as much money as possible and pass the savings on to their shareholders, regardless of the condition of the inmates.

In response to this inflow of tax revenue to groups like the CCA, the industry spent more than $45 million on campaign contributions and lobbying. This has lead to contracts worth hundreds of thousands dollars to incentivize lobbyists to obscure the issue for legislators.

In the CCA's home state of Tennessee is Sen. Bob Corker, author of the Corker-Hoeven amendment, which Sen. Leahy (D-VT) decried as a "Christmas wish list for Haliburton." While the Republican representing the CCA's corporate home is an obvious choice for private prison money and received more than $50,000 from the CCA, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) received $64,000 from the prison lobby Akin Gump et al and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) received $21,600 from Akin and $74,7000 from McBee Strategic Consulting.

This is not even including the convoluted, indirect donations from groups with significant interests in detention corporations through investments in the Geo Group. This includes banks like "too big to fail" Wells Fargo, which will also sneak their money through indirect and/or anonymous donations to organizations like SuperPACS: The industry has quietly spent millions and utilized a small army of lobbyists to successfully entrench itself on both sides of the aisle.

The people placed into these corporations' facilities find themselves in a perfect storm. Even if they are citizens they cannot vote and have no representation in Congress, often are in poverty and cannot afford an attorney, do not know what their rights are and quickly find themselves in a situation where they can be thrown into solitary confinement completely at the discretion of those running the center; it is about as vulnerable and powerless a position as the entirety of the unrestricted power of the state can possibly put a human being into. For the terrible treatment they endure, the price to the taxpayer is between $45,000 to $60,000 per year per detainee.

Focusing in on the CCA, a government investigation into the Eloy Detention Center showed that medical care was so poor "detainee welfare is in jeopardy" following the death of an inmate in 2006. Shortly after, another death in that same facility that pointed toward overwhelming incompetence on behalf of the CCA brought another investigation. The death was initially covered up by the prison, and only released due to a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU.

The ACLU is currently suing the Corrections Corporation of America, contending the prison denies injured inmates medical care to save money and hide the extent of injuries. This is the same corporation that was recently dumped by four states after its prison in Idaho became so violent the inmates began referring to it as "gladiator school."

The CCA has also been caught using prison gangs to discipline inmates, understaffing their facilities, falsifying nearly 4,800 hours of staffing records to drain more money out of the state for work they did not do, working guards for days on end without breaks, ignoring the cries of a woman in labor who gave birth to a child in her cell that died within a week... the list truly does go on.

Even if the Obama administration has had this hand forced, the hand they are holding is a violation of the human rights of two young people demonstrating against a system the country overwhelmingly wants to see changed. These young people are symbolic of larger, even more egregious human rights abuse which goes on in the shadows of for-profit immigration detention facilities, and will continue until we see real government action.