Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Prisons in Tennessee Could Benefit from GOP’s Proposal for Arizona-style Immigration Law

Republicans in Tennessee want to copy Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law next year, which critics say would benefit one private prison company that has made significant contributions to conservative lawmakers backing the law.

The tough immigration law will be a top item on the new Republican-dominated legislature’s agenda.  State Sen. Bill Ketron (R) says he will file his version of the law by Thursday.

“You can’t deny how (illegal immigration) is affecting us, from education to health care to the judicial system to incarceration, and more importantly the number of jobs it’s taken away,” he said.

The Nashville-based, Corrections Corporation of America, is a private prison company that has contributed more than $95,000(according to a survey by the Tennessean) to help elect politicians supportive of the anti-immigrant measure and is also a member of an organization promoting the law.

The company already earns up to 12 percent of its revenue from contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and could stand to gain even more if the law is passed due to the need for new detention centers.

“The bigger issue is that when you criminalize immigrant families, there are winners and there are losers,” said Stephen Fotopulos, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “The winners are executives from the prison corporations and the legislators they fund. The losers are local taxpayers, immigrant workers and their U.S. citizen children.”

On top of racial-profiling fears and the confliction with federal immigration laws, critics also worry about the additional economic repercussions the state could face in the already struggling economy.

“That is what I want people in Tennessee to realize: This is a no-win situation for Tennessee,” Nashville attorney Gregg Ramos, a former state prosecutor in Arizona, said.  “We don’t want these economic losses, especially when we’re trying to pull ourselves out of a ditch and get this economy back on the road. It seems like it goes totally opposite of everything (Gov. Phil Bredesen) has done in trying to attract foreign businesses here to bring jobs.”

Ramos says such a measure is problematic and sends the wrong message.

“We have problems, there’s no two ways about it. We acknowledge that, and there’s a way to deal with it rationally. But by bringing it (the Arizona law) to Tennessee, all we’re going to be doing is creating more problems,” he said.