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Private Prison Industry Played A Heavy Hand in Arizona Immigration Law, NPR Reports

November 3, 2010 1 comment

NPR reports that controversial Arizona immigration law S.B. 1070 was drafted and lobbied for in significant part by the private prison industry, through conservative organization the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together members of industry and politicians, including Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce. [Salt Lake City Weekly]  CCA, the country’s largest private prison company, participated in discussions of the idea behind the eventual bill from an early stage, and stood to benefit from future contracts to build or run immigration detention centers under the new law, which – if contested provisions are upheld at the end of an ongoing constitutional challenge – would allow local law enforcement to conduct warrantless arrests of individuals suspected of being undocumented aliens.  In addition, CCA and other private prison companies donated heavily to Arizona legislators who supported the bill and CCA reportedly has close ties to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s administration. [Salt Lake City Weekly]

CCA, which operates more than half the immigration detention centers in the country, has been criticized for its employment practices and conditions of detention, and has been on the receiving end of numerous civil rights complaints by prisoners and other litigation, including a class action suit filed in 2000 to enjoin CCA’s alleged practice of colluding with telephone companies to increase the cost to inmates to make phone calls, with financial gain going to CCA. [Tucscon Citizen; CCR; Mother Jones].

A constitutional challenge brought by the Federal government against enforcement of the Arizona law is pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments this week on Arizona’s appeal of the District Court’s injunction against several provisions of the law.  The Arizona Republic reported that the judges seemed inclined to rule in favor of Arizona on some provisions, but in the Federal government’s favor on others.

The growth of the private prison industry has come under intense scrutiny in several contexts, including immigration detention and the Iraq war.  In response to the Arizona story, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association warned on Election Day yesterday that voters “should be just as worried about the things they don’t see – the unknown forces influencing decisions at all levels of government.”

Relatedly, the Latin America News Dispatch reports that deportations of undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions are at a record high in the United States and have increased 70% under the Obama Administration, due in large part to the Secure Communities program, through which local law enforcement provides biometric data to federal immigration authorities to determine the immigration and criminal backgrounds of individuals arrested by local authorities, with a view to increasing deportation of removable aliens convicted of violent or drug-related offenses.  However, the program has been criticized as encouraging racial profiling, distracting local law enforcement from their primary duties, and accelerating deportations  – including of thousands of migrants arrested for petty offenses such as traffic violations who have no prior criminal history – without waiting for legislative overhaul of immigration law. [ACLU; NYT]  Last week, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Center for Constitutional Rights and Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law sought an injunction in federal court to require the federal immigration agency, ICE, to disclose information on how communities may opt-out of the Secure Communities program. [Florida Independent; CCRJanet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, has stated that opt-out is not available and all local law enforcement agencies must begin participating in the program by 2013.

For more information on immigration policy and immigrant detention in the United States, see the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers and Their Families, the ACLU, Amnesty International, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Migration Policy Institute, and the International Organization for Migration.

 

News Clips – October 15, 2010

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment
  • The loss of leading international human rights scholar Louis Henkin is mourned, while the legal community remembers his long career dedicated to the development of international law and the protection of human rights. [Human Rights First]
  • Moldova has ratified the Rome Statute to become the newest State Party to the International Criminal Court, bringing the total to 114. [UN]
  • Canadian citizen Omar Khadr may have reached a plea agreement with the U.S. government, ending his prosecution by a Military Commission at Guantánamo. [Human Rights First]  Khadr was detained in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old and recently turned 24 while in U.S. custody.  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declined to confirm the status of Khadr’s case, but reports indicate that the deal would require Khadr to plead guilty to the war crimes charges against him – including murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy – and serve eight years in prison, the final seven years being served in Canada, contingent on the Canadian government’s agreement. [CBC News]  Khadr’s case has drawn attention because of his young age, but also as one of a handful of cases in which Guantánamo detainees have argued that their home country governments have an obligation to use diplomacy to secure their nationals’ release from Guantánamo.  See INTERIGHTSthird party intervention in Boumediene before the ECHR for relevant jurisprudence and an example of the analysis used in such cases.
  • France has arrested Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana, who is wanted by the ICC on charges that he committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year. [ICC; HRW]
  • Uzbekistan has convicted two journalists, Vladimir Berezovskii and Abdumalik Boboev, on defamation and insult charges in connection with articles written or made available by them which were critical of the Uzbek government’s policies; Boboev was ordered to pay a hefty fine. [VOA; HRW]
  • Kenya will no longer prosecute suspected Somali pirates captured by international forces, as it lets expire an agreement entered into last year with the European Union and several national governments. [Impunity Watch]
  • Indonesian President Yudhoyono cancelled his scheduled trip to the Netherlands last week due to a human rights suit filed in Dutch court against him by a Maluku separatist who was allegedly detained and severely beaten for showing a Maluku independence flag during a presidential speech in 2007. [VOA]
  • Federal district court judge Virginia A. Phillips has granted the plaintiffs permanent injunctive relief against the government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which had allowed the U.S. military to dismiss soldiers for revealing their homosexuality, upon finding that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s substantive due process and free speech protections. [C.D. Cal.]  The federal legislature has recently been deliberating repeal of DADT, but Senate Democrats were unable to overcome Republican opposition to the bill. [WSJ]
  • Human Rights Watch calls on the Rwandan government to protect the rights and safety of opposition leaders, in relation to the detention of the leaders of two Rwandan opposition parties. [HRW]
  • The IACHR has released its hearing schedule for 140th Period of Sessions, to begin later this month. [IACHR]  The Commission’s thematic hearings will address issues ranging from camps for the internally displaced in Haiti to prosecutions for crimes against humanity in Argentina, while the hearings on the admissibility and merits of individual cases will include that of Guantánamo detainee Djamel AmezianeLivestreaming and/or recordings will be available for most hearings.
  • A Peruvian court has convicted Vladimiro Montesinos, former aide to ex-President Alberto Fujimori and de facto head of security, as well as members of the Colina death squad, on charges of extrajudicial killing and injury of 29 individuals in separate incidents, including the massacre of Barrios Altos.  The court (Sala Penal Especial de la Corte Suprema de Justicia) found the acts constituted crimes against humanity, as it similarly found in the case of Alberto Fujimori. [CEJIL]  The Barrios Altos case has been reviewed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which found Peru responsible for the deaths and lack of investigation or reparation (merits decision here).
  • Ecuador is receiving negative attention from NGOs and the UN as recent unrest has led the Ecuadorian government to crack down on freedom of the press and of expression. [UN]
  • UN peacekeepers and Democratic Republic of Congo forces have captured a DRC rebel leader accused of orchestrating the mass rape of more than 300 people two months ago. [UN]
  • South Africa’s majority party, the African National Congress, is considering pursuing a bill that would allow the government to imprison journalists for 3 to 25 years for publishing any information that impacts the “national interest”. [Impunity Watch]
  • Following the Nobel Committee’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, UN experts and others have called for his release from detention and respect for fundamental rights in China. [UN]
  • The UN has called for an investigation into the October 8th death in custody of a man detained for throwing stones at DRC President Joseph Kabila’s motorcade last month. [UN]
  • ProPublica reports that the U.S. government significantly altered a federal judge’s decision granting a Guántanamo detainee’s habeas petition while reviewing the order for classified information, removing eight pages of the opinion, including the judge’s criticism of the government’s weak case, and changing key details to make the detainee appear more threatening.  The changes were discovered because the court had published the judge’s original opinion online. [Democracy Now!]

U.S. Court Rules Corporations Cannot be Held Civilly Liable for Torture and Other Violations of International Law under ATCA

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Last Friday’s Second Circuit ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, if upheld, could be the death knell for litigation seeking to hold corporations accountable for torture and other violations of customary international law under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

The plaintiffs, Nigerian nationals, brought suit against Royal Dutch and Shell Petroleum for aiding and abetting the Nigerian government in extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary arrest, and other acts of suppression against those protesting the environmental effects of oil exploration.

In affirming dismissal of the suit, the Second Circuit held that corporations cannot be held liable under the ATCA (or ATS) because customary international law only confers jurisdiction over natural persons. [WSJ]  As in the recent Ninth Circuit ruling in Bowoto v. Chevron, which held that the Nigerian plaintiffs could not recover under the ATCA (because a different federal statute preempted their claims) or the Torture Victims Protection Act against Chevron for the wrongful deaths of protesters, the Second Circuit’s decision ends the plaintiffs’ possibilities for relief.

In Kiobel, the Second Circuit seems to have turned on their head historic justifications for individual criminal (as opposed to State) liability for grave violations of international law.  The majority cites the Nuremberg tribunal as stating: “Crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced”, in order to support the majority’s dismissal of the suit based on its finding that international law “has never extended the scope of liability to a corporation”.

However, as the dissenting judge in Kiobel argues, “on many occasions [U.S.] courts have ruled in cases involving corporate defendants [in ATCA suits] in a manner that assumed without discussion that corporations could be liable”.

Read more on the ATCA on this blog (here and here), from the Center for Justice & Accountability, on the Center for Constitutional Rights’ ATCA Q&A sheet, and on Amnesty International USA’s website.

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