Private companies are now exploiting Arizona’s immigrants in courts and in prisons
While Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s push against undocumented immigrants gets more national coverage, activists warned this week Arizona’s efforts to privatize court representation for defendants could also spread.
“Everything that is done to immigrants is done to all of us eventually,” Puente Movement director Carlos Garcia said.
According to both Garcia and former public defender Isabel Garcia — no relation — the center of that strategy is Operation Streamline, in which defendants in immigration-related proceedings are brought seven at a time before a federal judge in Tucson and offered the choice between a 5-year prison sentence for illegal entry or re-entry into the US or re-deportation.
She said that the public defenders office in Pima County, where the court is located, has little involvement with these cases, so the court has contracted various private defense attorneys — each representing several defendants at a time in the same case — to take them on.
“Without processing criminal cases based on immigration violations, this court has very little to do. So it becomes an industrial complex,” she said on Thursday. “So it is privatized. It’s privatized to the hilt, all of it.”
That privatization extends beyond the court process to incarceration; Streamline-related cases have an incarceration rate exceeding 90 percent, with many of the defendants placed in private prisons operated by groups like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has three facilities in Arizona.
According to a video posted by the progressive group Netroots Nation, CCA drew more than $1.7 billion in 2011 from its facilities in 20 states and the District of Columbia. As recently as last year, Arpaio and other law enforcement officials complained that the use of CCA prisons was wasting state funding that could be used for local jails, instead.
“The state should be supporting the counties and not try competing against them,” Apache County sheriff’s deputy Brannon Eager said at the time.
Earlier this month, the Arizona Republic called on Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to stop the bidding process for new private prisons following a spate of riots at several facilities, including one in Kingman owned by another company, the Management and Training Corporation. Columnist Caroline Isaacs also noted that CCA facilities in Idaho and Texas had drawn heavy criticism for both medical neglect and neglect from guards.
Former St. Louis attorney Lizz Brown, who is now a progressive radio host and political analyst, was in disbelief that attorneys would take part in Streamline proceedings after hearing Isabel Garcia describe them during a presentation organized by Netroots on Thursday.
“As an attorney, I find it offensive,” Brown said. “I would never do that. I would never sit silent with this. I would never engage in making money like that.”
That attorneys would represent clients in a “cattle call” fashion, she said, is the kind of practice that seminars and conferences expressly warn against.
“There’s a board in every city, there’s a board in every state, and I would gather like-minded attorneys all over the country to help file ethics charges against individual attorneys, against the process itself,” Brown said. “And I would link that to various social media entities to bring this to the attention of people. I think it’s an easy case to describe as offensive.”
Garcia said on Thursday that a separate group, End Streamline Coalition, will be filing a bar complaint calling for an end to the practice.
“Arizona was picked to be the funnel for immigrants and the creator of an anti-migrant posture,” she said. “It’s not an anti-immigrant, it’s an anti-human state that’s applied to immigrants at this point.”
Watch a short documentary on Streamline, as posted by Netroots Nation, below.