Principle number four of the Public Safety and Justice Campaign, a national coalition for which Grassroots Leadership provides coordination, reads:
Public safety and justice can only be achieved when criminal justice policy is free of corporate influence and expressly intends to enhance the public good.
Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat representing a large chunk of Texas’ border with Mexico, provides a prime and disappointing example of the consequences of allowing the for-profit private prison industry to lobby and financially contribute to political campaigns.
At first glance, Cuellar’s reputation appears to be a mixed bag. He voted against building a fence along the U.S./Mexico border, and he does not support the Minutemen Project, a volunteer-based movement of civilians taking on surveillance of the border region, claiming to do what they believe ought to be the duty of the Federal Government. He was also a champion of the aforementioned Operation Streamline, the 2005 policy that funnels immigrants into the federal criminal justice system to be prosecuted for entry or re-entry without authorization which will be expanded under the immigration bill currently in play. Grassroots Leadership has critiqued Operation Streamline heavily, in large part because when the number of prosecutions of these two crimes increases, such as they have in the Southern District, for-profit private prison companies benefit substantially.
Based on these examples one might glean that Cuellar is opposed to certain types of deterrence of undocumented migration to the United States, yet has no problem locking immigrants up once here. The two stances seem contradictory, don’t they?
The missing link is the well-document fact that GEO Group, the second largest for-profit private prison company and operator of the Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo in Congressional District #28, is one of Congressman Cuellar’s top campaign supporters, according to the Texas Tribune. In 2012 Cuellar ranked number 3 in contributions from GEO Group out of the entire U.S. House of Representatives.
It’s no wonder, then, that when members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance called on Cuellar this week to write a letter to President Obama asking for the release of DREAM activists who had been detained after illegally crossing the U.S./Mexico border in protest of the President’s record number of deportations, the Texas Congressman refused. He cited disagreement with the activists’ tactics, and concern for their families being exploited as his rationale. This opinion piece on NBC Latino, however, cuts to what we agree is the core issue. “Cuellar gets money from private prison companies that detain immigrants and separate families.”
27 DREAM activists is money in the pockets of the industry -- to the tune of about $200 per day per inmate -- which has bankrolled this elected official. To advocate for their release compromises his reputation with the industry, putting future financial support at risk. Put this way, it’s plain to see that Cuellar’s priorities, like that of the for-profit prison industry, are profits before people; the very opposite of enhancing the public good.