Profiting From Immigration Injustice
Posted on Feb 14, 2010
By Max Blumenthal
The judge replied that while he would issue a “recommendation” for the defendant to serve his time in Washington, the Bureau of Prisons had the final say on where he would serve his prison term. “See!” Garcia said, seething.
If the man’s request to serve his jail term near his family was not met—and it clearly would not be—he could expect to do time at the nearby Eloy Detention Center, operated by a controversial private prison firm called Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Nine immigrants have died under mysterious circumstances under CCA’s watch at Eloy. The dead include an ailing 62-year-old Ghanian man imprisoned in 2006 for a misdemeanor he had committed in 1979 and a 36-year-old man from Ecuador who was refused treatment for testicular cancer even as he writhed in pain on the floor of his cell. In 2006, another detainee, a 27-year-old immigrant from Colombia who initially refused treatment for headaches and dizziness died weeks later of a seizure when Eloy medical staff members ignored him for an hour after he collapsed. Reporters and lawyers seeking information on the deaths have been stonewalled by CCA and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE); the death of the Ecuadorean, Felix Frankin Torres-Rodriguez, was never reported by CCA.
When ICE conducted an internal investigation of CCA’s Eloy center in 2006, it found that the facility had “failed on multiple levels to perform basic supervision and provide for the safety and welfare of ICE detainees.” But thanks to Streamline, CCA’s nonunion prison operation continues to bring work to the town of Eloy.
In September, Money magazine ranked the home of Eloy Detention Center, Pinal County, as the county with the fastest rate of job growth in the country. “Over the past several years, we have welcomed three more CCA facilities in Eloy,” boasted Eloy City Manager Joseph Blanton. “CCA has brought nearly 1,500 new jobs to Eloy through these facilities.”
Square, Site wide
As a new group of second-time border crossers appeared before the judge, one man was questioned about a conviction from 1997 for driving under the influence, a crime that could result in a longer sentence. Speaking through the public defender assigned to the group, the defendant pleaded for mercy. “His wife is a U.S. citizen,” the lawyer informed the judge. “He simply wanted to support his family by picking apples in Washington so he spent hundreds of dollars to take a bus from Acapulco to Nogales. He promises he will never come back to the United States.”
The heartfelt plea seemed to do little good. The judge slapped the man with a 150-day sentence and an admonition. “Don’t come back to the U.S. because it is not worth it,” the judge said in a firm but forced tone. “It’s not worth living in fear all the time. There are a lot of countries around the world that have good economies. You might want to consider immigrating to those countries instead.”
The judge, a bespectacled, dour fellow named Thomas Ferraro, sounded sincere issuing his ludicrous advice. Although he had been appointed head of a virtual kangaroo court for a day each week, Ferraro did not rush through the trial as other magistrates were known to do. He was doing his best to hear the concerns of the defendants, even if there was nothing he could do for them. Garcia whispered to me, “Ferraro feels guilty because it’s a total sham, so he’s putting his personal touch on it. He’s one of the nice ones.”
Finally, Ferraro directed his attention to the 50 or so remaining defendants who were first-time offenders. “Do you give up your rights and plead guilty to the crime of illegal entry?” he asked them.
From the gallery and jury box, a baritone chorus rose up: “Si!” None of the female defendants in the front row uttered a sound, however.
“Do each of you understand the essential elements of your guilty plea?” Ferraro asked.
“Si!” the defendants bellowed again.
Before sentencing the migrants to deportation, Ferraro took one last opportunity to scold them. “This is no way to live your life,” he declared. “Most of you are very young and can go back to Mexico and make a living for yourselves and your family. It will be much easier, believe me, and you won’t be separated from your families.”
While the migrants listened impassively on headphones to a translated version of Ferraro’s lecture, 14 criminal defense attorneys peppered throughout the audience gallery busied themselves jotting notes and playing with their BlackBerries. Though a couple of these lawyers with whom I spoke outside the courtroom seemed passionate in their opposition to Streamline, the vast majority were among the most predatory in town. Their participation in Streamline was motivated by the $110 an hour they earned without exerting a scintilla of effort. They operated as deportation conductors, not advocates. According to Heather Williams, the supervisor of the Tucson Federal Public Defenders Office, the federal government shells out between $6,000 and $12,000 each day to pay the private attorneys who represent Streamline defendants.
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