By Thomas Kennedy
All across the country in dozens of cities, communities are gearing up for January 14th, a national day of action where people will link arms and stand up against the Trump agenda, which threatens to deport millions of immigrants, rip families apart and drive millions of others to silence out of fear.
Here in Florida, we plan to do the same, but with a slightly narrowed focus. Across the country, but in Broward County in particular, we face an immigrant detention crisis. The use of private prisons and immigration detention centers to lock up undocumented immigrants in the United States has exploded in the past decade thanks to a congressional mandate dictating a "bed quota" for these centers. This quota requires that the Department of Homeland Security make 30,000 beds available for the detention of immigrants.
The detention of immigrants has become highly profitable for private corporations. Today, for-profit prison corporations manage 62 percent of ICE immigration detention beds, up from 25 percent in 2005. The high numbers of people detained at these centers equals big money for the industry.
These for-profit immigration detention centers have been called out repeatedly for human rights abuses. A scathing report by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission found that most detention facilities fail to provide adequate medical care, deny detainees proper legal representation, officials ignore cases of rape or sexual abuse and engage in Islamophobic behavior, such as barring Muslims from celebrating religious holidays.
For undocumented immigrants like my parents who live in South Florida, these statistics are troubling. My parents drive to work every day with the fear that one mistake could lead to their detainment. Just last month, my dad was involved in a minor fender bender, and although the situation fortunately did not escalate, it was nerve-racking to think that this small incident could have resulted in his detention.
Undocumented immigrants and allies did not stay silent, however, when Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz attempted to build a second private immigration detention center in Broward County here in South Florida. They organized with other activists and camped outside of the proposed site until they defeated the proposal.
While the proposal for a new site was scuttled, hundreds of undocumented immigrants are detained at a center in Pompano Beach, managed by The GEO Group, one of the biggest private prison companies in the world. A report released by the Seattle University School of Law and the immigrant rights group OneAmerica has detailed human right abuses at this center, including medical malpractice, a lack of proper care for detainees, sexual assaults, inadequate access to legal services and extremely low wages for labor performed by detainees.
Unfortunately, these accusations have not stopped South Florida politicians from taking thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the private prison industry. Senate records show that the GEO Group lobbyists paid between $220,000 and $360,000 to influence legislators. This money has allowed these companies to operate in Florida without fear of hard opposition from some state legislators.
Opponents of the private prison industry logged a major win when the Department of Justice announced its decision on Aug. 18th to phase out the use of private prisons. Subsequently, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will reexamine its use of private contractors for immigrant detention facilities. These victories are now under threat by the incoming Trump administration that promises to reverse many of the Obama administration policies. In fact, many are speculating that the industry will see a boost under President-elect Trump.
Despite this, a coalition of undocumented immigrants, community activists, and overall well doers are ready to stand up against the profiteering of human lives. As part of a national day of action organized by the immigrant rights organization United We Dream and its allies, these activists will go to the Broward Transitional Center,the Pompano Beach facility owned by GEO Group, to show the state - and the world - how immigration makes American great, by contributing to the economy as well as a vibrant and diverse culture.
The abuses against for-profit private prisons show that the privatization of the prison industry is wrong and immoral. These companies are financially successful at the expense of the liberty of human beings. The financial incentive to incarcerate people and keep them incarcerated is too great. It is time to do away with this industry that has profiteered from locking up hard-working people like my parents.
On January 14th, organizations such as SEIU, United We Dream, Students Working for Equal Rights & more will host a rally in front of the Broward Transitional Center, a private immigration detention center in Pompano Beach, to demonstrate that immigration is beautiful. It is what builds culture and love.
RSVP here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1236335523080270/
Thomas Kennedy is a writing fellow for the Center for Community Change Action.