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New TX For-Profit Prison Targets Immigrants

If the concept of a for-profit private prison doesn't already alarm your sense of morality, imagine a for-profit private prison that targets and would be filled with undocumented immigrants living along the Lower Rio Grande Valley border.

That's what some of the largest players from the private prison industry - including GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America and LCS Corrections Services - are hoping to bring to the City of Mcallen in South Texas.

Fifty advocacy groups have already united against the private jail proposal. One of the major community's organizations, La Union del Pueblo Entero, founded by civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, is collecting signatures to bring to the city commission when they meet to discuss the proposal this week.

Last month, the City of McAllen started accepting proposals for a privately operated, 1,000-bed jail, which would hold federal inmates awaiting court hearings. The jail would operate under the city's existing agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service. The project was kept hidden from the public for over a year.

The companies bidding for the jail, such as GEO and CCA, have a truly awful record on abuse. The GEO Group-run South Florida State Hospital had to be reviewed by the state in 2012 after one patient was found dead in a scalding bath, another from having her head rammed through a wall, and a third by having leaped from a building to his death after being known to suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and previous suicide attempts. The CCA-run Northeast Ohio Correctional Center was plagued with violence and unrest since it was first opened, with 13 stabbings, two murders, and six escapes in its first fourteen months of operation.

In a letter sent to the McAllen city officials, fifty organizations, from the South Texas Civil Rights Project to the Florida Immigrant Coalition, are calling foul.

In their letter, the fifty organizations point to studies that show the negative impact private prisons have on employment growth in rural U.S. counties. La Union del Pueblo Entero is also expressing the same concern, arguing that a private prison built in their community will only bring lawsuits and liabilities for the city, low wages, fewer benefits, no pensions, stunt economic growth, and create unsafe conditions for local staff and prisoners.

"My immediate response was from the heart: Because I do believe the majority of the people will be undocumented people," saidAnn Williams Cass, executive director of the local advocacy group, Proyecto Azteca.

"McAllen already profits from immigrants who cook meals, clean houses and work other tough jobs, and the city shouldn't profit from their incarceration," argued Cass.

"Additionally, building a prison would have consequences for nearby property owners, creating a "donut hole" for development," said Cass. "Nobody is going to develop the land around that property. So I'm not even sure it's a good economic development project for the city to get into."

According to data available by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, up to 90% of those kept in McAllen's private prison will be undocumented immigrants. Much of the detention growth in the country is coming from immigrant detainees, and profit motive may be influencing immigration policies.

Building a private prison is not an effective economic development strategy. The reputation of this fast-developing region would be tarnished, and many innocent members of the community would be put into immediate danger. Border communities depend heavily on immigration, this is not the proper way to treat its members of the community.

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