By Chris Thomas
Washington News Service
SEATTLE – The new year began for some in the U.S. with surprise raids from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, looking for families from Central America who haven’t been granted asylum.
There have been no such raids yet in Washington, but immigrants’ advocates aren’t taking any chances. They’re having a know-your-rights session on Friday at Casa Latina in Seattle, for anyone concerned about how to handle an ICE visit.
There’s also a hotline for people to report immigration issues. Maru Mora Villalpando, founder of the group Latino Advocacy, says her organization is getting some calls.
“What we have is every day, the presence of ICE throughout our state – looking for people outside their homes, or knocking at their homes pretending to be looking for somebody else,” she states. “In some instances following people after they leave court. So, those are the kinds of things we have verified.”
Villalpando says the result is that even legal immigrants don’t feel safe.
Arnie Alpert, co-director of the Presidential Campaign Project at the American Friends Service Committee, says his group’s new report shows lobbying investments by for-profit prison corporations appear to have played a part in setting a national quota in 2009 of 34,000 immigrants being held in detention on a daily basis.
“More than 60 percent of those immigrants are being held in prisons that are owned by for-profit corporations, which not by coincidence at all happen to be companies that spend millions of dollars a year lobbying,” he points out. “It’s a classic case of what we call ‘governing under the influence,’ and we want it to stop.”
The report says Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, which runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, have spent a combined total of over $32 million lobbying the federal government since 2003.
Villalpando says she isn’t surprised.
“It really looks like ICE is working for GEO, allowing them not only to live here in Tacoma, and 800-people minimum guaranteed daily, but the fact that GEO does whatever they want inside the detention center, and they’re not accountable to anyone – not even to the U.S. government,” she stresses.
Villalpando says her group confirmed a small donation to a local Tacoma politician a few years ago from the GEO Group, but nothing lately.