The latest Texas Observer offers an excellent look at how the booming private prison industry is seeking to cash in on the immigration debate: by building for-profit "superjails" to incarcerate the undocumented:
The United States Marshals Service, for example, is now soliciting bids from private companies to build, own, and operate a 2,800-bed detention facility near Laredo. The "superjail," as it has come to be called, will serve the federal criminal court in downtown Laredo, which is loaded up with immigration-related cases in what the Marshals Service calls an "emergency [detention] situation."
The $100 million superjail is expected to be one of the largest private detention centers in the nation, and will join a growing chain of county and local jails and private detention facilities all over Texas that coordinate with federal agencies to hold immigrants-some destined for trials or hearings, others for deportation. [...]
"It's the immigrant gold rush in South Texas," says Bob Libal ... of Grassroots Leadership ... "In Texas, almost all of the current prison expansion is occurring to house immigrant detainees, and that's primarily located in South Texas along the border."
The story shows how dramatically the "immigrant detention complex" has grown since the mid-1990s:
There are at least 7,000 newly built or proposed ICE and Marshals Service beds in Texas for immigrant detainees, according to Corrections Professional, an industry journal. In the early 1980s, ICE (then INS) operated zero beds in Texas; the Marshals Service, no more than 3,000 in the entire country.
The for-profit detainers have an ambitious strategy: "The Office of Detention and Removal, a sub-agency of ICE, calls its 10-year plan "Endgame," the goal of which is to "remove all removable aliens" by 2012." And they will use any means necessary to get there:
The Secure Border Initiative also puts into place another controversial enforcement strategy: "expedited removal," which requires mandatory detention and rapid deportation of certain undocumented border-crossers. Originally authorized under the 1996 law, expedited removal was set up in the McAllen and Laredo sectors as a pilot project called "Texas Hold 'Em" in August 2004. [...]
These detainees have no right to an attorney and are barred from returning to the United States for at least five years. Each person subject to expedited removal is supposed to be evaluated by an immigration-enforcement agent to ensure that they do not fall into a protected category, such as a bona fide asylum-seeker or a lawful permanent resident. Immigration advocates and attorneys worry that these agents lack the training or incentives to properly evaluate an immigrant's rights.
"It's a very summary procedure, lacking in the fundamental due process rights," says Meredith Linsky, director of South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation, a Harlingen-based organization. She argues that many individuals with a legal right to enter or remain in the United States are swept up by expedited removal and whisked out of the country.
"Everything has changed" since she first arrived in Harlingen in 1989, Linsky says. "In 1989, everyone that was apprehended was given a bond, given the opportunity to go in front of an impartial judge... .Today people are apprehended, and for the most part they are arrested, judged, tried, and removed in one fell swoop by the [Border Patrol] officer at the border with no legal representation."
Sounds like a South Texas version of "extraordinary rendition."