Happy Hispanic Heritage Month: Latinos Are The Majority In Federal Prison


Cindy Casares Portrait

This year, we’re kicking off Hispanic Heritage Month with the disheartening news that Latinos, for the first time in American history, comprise the majority of inmates in federal prison. One reason for this, according to the  Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, is the unprecedented amount of undocumented immigrants being arrested and charged rather than deported. The trend is a tactic on the part of the Obama administration, (and the Bush administration before them), says Walter Ewing, senior researcher at the Immigration Policy Center, to butter up conservative litigators for immigration reform.

“It’s a losing strategy because it’s never going to be enough for them,” Ewing told political watchdog site Colorlines, referring to members of Congress who demand “a secure border” before they can consider immigration reform.

Meanwhile, those sneaking into the United States to willingly perform labor for minuscule wages are finding themselves involved in a far more diabolic system than they bargained for. Namely, privatized prisons motivated by profit.

Corrections Corp. of America, (it sounds like something out of a  Monty Python skit, but it’s sadly very real), runs more than 60 prisons and immigrant-detention centers across the country. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the effect of money on U.S. politics, CCA has spent more than any other corrections company–$17.6 million– lobbying politicians, contributing to their campaigns and hiring their former staff. They also lobby the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement division which just so happens to contract with CCA and other private companies for immigration-detention centers.

Though CCA says they only lobby to educate policy makers, one can’t help but notice that what they lobby for is tougher prison sentences. After all, it’s how they make their money.   

As for the claim that private prison companies run a more efficient ship, one only has to do a cursory search online to find their records rife with incompetence that has cost many inmates their lives. The country’s second largest private prison company, GEO group, formerly called Wackenhut, which runs a facility at Guantanamo Bay, has been involved in numerous scandals across the country, including here in Texas. One of note resulted in a teenage inmate at a Coke County facility committing suicide after she was repeatedly raped by a guard. A court investigation found that some of the guards Wackenhut hired had criminal records themselves.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement in state-run prisons, but at least they’re not in it to make money,” says Alexia Rodriguez, VP Immigrant Children’s Services and Legal Counsel for Southwest Key, a non-profit that provides alternatives to incarceration for youth. “When money is your motive for providing this kind of service, the results are never good.”

What kind of heritage are we creating with a culture that’s willing to make money on the backs of poor immigrants? Let’s take this Hispanic Heritage Month to seriously consider the consequences of our actions.