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The Upriver Causes of Our Immigration and Refugee Crisis

For decades now, Congress has failed to find a way forward on immigration reform.

For decades now, Congress has failed to find a way forward on immigration reform. All sides seem to agree that we have a problem, but to date, no headway has been made. Why? While our leaders continue to posture and bicker, millions of families have been torn apart by our government’s detention prison and deportation system. With the ascendancy of a corporate businessman as president, things have only gotten worse.

The following story illustrates the need to solve this problem by looking at it from two different perspectives. It goes like this:

One morning, some villagers were fishing in a nearby river when one of the women noticed a baby bobbing along in the current. She immediately jumped into the churning waters and rescued the child, bringing it to shore and wrapping it in a blanket. But no sooner had she done so than another villager yelled, “Look!” Turning back toward the river they saw not one, but several dozen babies floating along with no end of infants in sight!

Soon, the whole village was involved in the rescue process. By midday, they were exhausted.

Finally, someone suggested that a small contingent go upriver to find out just how all these babies were getting into the river in the first place.

This story is told in many ways and, of course, it never really happened, but it’s “need-to-go-upriver” message to get to the cause is very real.

The Ongoing Issue of Immigrants and Refugees Seeking Entry Into the Country

The Downriver Stats:

Most Americans welcome immigrants and refugees. Polls show that the majority of us want to welcome immigrants and refugees. This is underscored by the presidential race exit polls in 2012 and 2016, which showed that 65 and 70 percent, respectively, believe that “illegal immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.” (“Undocumented migrants is more correct. No human being is illegal.)

Immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes than we are. In fact, higher immigration is associated with lower crime rates.

Immigration is good for innovation: “Immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as native born Americans. When immigrants and their children do start companies, they are incredibly successful — accounting for 40% of the Fortune 500 list and over 10 million jobs created. And those are just corporate jobs  —  immigrants start local businesses too. Researcher David Kallick found that immigrant business owners account for 28 percent of all the Main Street businesses in America, employing an additional 4.7 million workers.”

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of reports and statistics that each make a positive case for immigrants and refugees, but these will have to suffice in this short article.

For decade after decade, local and national politicians (Congress) have not been able to solve the immigration problem. Instead of things getting better, we are now criminalizing people seeking to save their families and themselves, subjecting them to indefinite detention/imprisonment and tearing apart families. Like the babies flowing downriver, our leaders’ inability to handle this issue is ongoing and seemingly endless. We’re a nation of smart, caring people. Why can’t we solve this problem?

Going Upriver for Answers

To find out why the immigration question continues to worsen, we must go upriver and get to the source.

Upriver, we find some interesting clues pointing to a connection between: 1) corporations making money off human captivity — including imprisoning children; 2) politicians seeking political capital by appealing to our worst fears and prejudices, then enacting new and ever harsher laws that criminalize and dehumanize those seeking a better life, who are often fleeing war, torture and death; and 3) the sensationalized media, always looking to keep ratings high by whatever means necessary.

Why does the United States, which has 5 percent of the world’s population, imprison 25 percent of the world’s prisoners?

The multi-billion-dollar reason: Private Prisons, including detention prisons, not to mention the huge Department of Homeland Security’s budget, are worth billions and billions of dollars each year. When Trump says, “We’re going to build a wall,” that’s coded language for the corporate world, especially for-profit, corporate-owned detention prisons. For the rest of us, “We’re going to build a wall” means that families will continue to be ripped apart and draconian detention and deportation measures will worsen. But for corporations and their stockholders, it signals that their way of doing business, over and above the needs of the people, will continue to thrive under his administration.

It turns out that since his election, private prison stock has risen dramatically. CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) is up 140 percent and GEO Group’s stock has risen 98 percent.

With so much money involved, the logical next upriver question is: Who profits and benefits from harsh immigration laws? Or, put another way, if we truly reform our prison and immigration policies, who stands to lose?

Let’s look at some more upriver stats:

The rise of private prisons and detention centers: Between 1979 and 2012, government spending for prisons grew by 324 percent. Spending went from $17 billion to $71 billion. Who is making money off of human captivity?

Corporations saw the possibility of an endless revenue stream: Corporate capitalism, in the form of private, money-making, for-profit prisons began during the Reagan era in 1983. (Is it any surprise that the “war on drugs” was declared around the same time? If you’re going to have private, money-making prisons, you must have people to fill the beds.)

The first one was Corrections Corporation of America (renamed CoreCivic), which was founded in Tennessee by Thomas Beasley, chair of the state’s Republican Party. They quickly added for-profit immigration detention centers into their portfolio. Other corporations quickly followed suit.

A Word About the Legal Nature of Corporations

As retired minister Davidson Loehr pointed out in a sermon, “If the corporation sells stocks, its sole legal purpose, under US laws, is to make as much money as possible for its stockholders. The corporation can pretend to care about society or the environment, as long as the money they spend makes more people want to buy their products and so increases profits for stockholders.”

Like robots, corporations are programmed to make money at all costs. Thus programmed, they legally cannot care about social justice, civil liberties, communities, clean water or air, or the climate in general. They can’t care about you or me or your children, nieces or nephews. It is against the law for them to “care” if it doesn’t make their shareholders money. Besides, robots don’t feel. Corporations — by law — aren’t allowed to either.

Private prisons are corporations. They operate like motels. The more occupants that go in, the more money comes out. In fact, they have entered into agreements with state and local governments requiring them to keep prisons filled or pay for unused, empty beds. Privately run prisons are known to pay bottom-dollar wages, provide sub-par, unhealthy food and have been sued for deaths due to medical negligence. When your sole legal purpose is to make money, human lives cease to matter.

Here’s what CoreCivic wrote in their financial filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

Please note the necessary collusion with Congress. Laws must remain harsh. Money must continue to be funneled to Homeland Security and private corporate contracts. Politicians must continue to frighten the public by demonizing immigrants and refugees so that we never catch on to their lucrative con game.

How Do They Do It?

Step 1: Create an Enemy. Politicians take money from corporate lobbyists. These corporations stand to gain billions. Together with politicians, they manipulate us by creating an “other,” an enemy. This triggers a fear response in the public, which fast-tracks their greed, allowing them to make money off human captivity. We become willing to deny other human beings their human rights and dignity when we’re encouraged to think of them as “other” and “enemy.” Most often the “other” is a Black or Brown person.

Step 2: Pass laws that criminalize immigrants and refugees. Politicians stand to gain power and money by creating an enemy. Many run on “tough on crime” platforms, receiving millions in corporate donations, then pass laws to buttress their claims.

Step 3: Give contracts to generous supporters. In 2015 alone, CoreCivic profited $222 million from their privately owned prisons, jails and immigration detention centers. (They were also able to avoid paying $113 million in federal income taxes.) In August 2016, the Justice Department, having concluded that private prisons were not run well and were not cost effective, began the process of phasing them out. And, as stated above, with the election of Republican candidate Donald Trump, that will likely be reversed. In fact, since the election, both CoreCivic and GEO Group have seen their stock values increase by 75 and 54 percent.

A Call to Action: What “We, the People” Can Do

Step 1: Remember to go upriver. We’ve got to spread the word about the upriver causes of the immigration crisis. We need our fellow citizens to see that, at its base, it’s a money-making con game that destroys individuals and families who are seeking a better, safer life, often fleeing war, escaping torture, death camps, famine and poverty.

Step 2: Stop fighting with each other. The goal of the con is to make us think we are enemies. We must see beyond the fear and hate-filled propaganda that generates:

● Billions for corporations

● Votes, money and power for politicians

● Ratings and money for media conglomerates

Step 3: Downriver work. Work with and support groups like Border Angels, the ACLU, Families for Freedom, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), the LGBTQ group Mariposas Sin Fronteras and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR). Find your representatives and tell them where you stand on immigration and refugees!

Learn all you can about “The Immigration Industrial Complex” (by Tanya Golash-Boza). Watch Immigrants for Sale, by Brave New Films. Read The New Jim Crow, and watch the documentary, 13th and read about migration as a human right, here, here and here, and the true nature of corporations at And, though not directory related, learn about Community Capitalism, Canada’s LEAP Manifesto, Joanna Macy and the Great Turning and Disaster Capitalism.

They’re selling hatred of “other” — namely, hatred of immigrants and refugees in order to cage them and cash in by the billions. They peddle fear for their own good, not our common good. We are fed lies as truth and encouraged to dehumanize and not care about each other. Remember that once we label someone or some group as “criminal,” we tend to stop caring about their well-being. Don’t let that happen to you.

We’re being played.

Beyond their corporate and political greed is our humanity and our ability to be compassionate by putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt

Be the change you wish to see in the world!

Note: An earlier version of this piece appears at ZNet.

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