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General Conference 2012

Tampa Event Geared to Immigrant Detention

By Elliott Wright

A rally to protest the growing private prison industry in the United States, and especially the use of such facilities to incarcerate immigrants, is set for Tampa, Fla.,  during the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The rally theme is “Profit From Pain Is Inhumane! Dignity Not Detention.”

The April 28 event at the Tampa Convention Center is sponsored by the denomination’s Task Force on Immigration and local and state groups opposed to the building of a 1,500-bed private immigrant detention center in Broward County, Fla. Private prisons represent a growing trend common across the country.

Rally organizers insist that the jailing of more than 350,000 immigrants in the United States is inhumane, separating families and criminalizing offenses that are civil at best. They claim that the private prison industry is encouraging state legislatures to fill their jails for profit.

Onsite at the rally and elsewhere, persons can text their support for a petition calling on state governors not to privatize prisons or offer “guaranteed occupancy” in state prisons. Support for the petition can be sent anytime after April 22 by texting the word “JUSTICE” to 27722. (Regular text messaging rates apply.)

Inhumane and Costly

The Detention Watch Network, an advocacy organization, reports that in 2009 some 49 per cent of 383,524 immigrants detained were in 30 private prisons, at an average daily cost of $122 per bed per day, or $1.7 billion. One company has publicly acknowledged that detaining immigrants who are out of status is a “growth opportunity” for the company, according to rally sponsors.

“We believe that the for- profit prison system is a major contributor to the detention of immigrants without due process of law,” said Bishop Minerva Carcaño of Phoenix, Ariz., chair of the immigration task force. “This system contributes to the growing criminalization of entire migrant communities giving rise to racial profiling and the demonization of migrant communities. We believe this to be immoral and antithetical to our Christian faith.” The bishop leads the Desert Southwest Annual Conference of the church.

The rally on April 28 will take place at the Sail Pavilion of the convention center from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. The General Conference, the United Methodist legislature that meets every four years, is at the center from April 24 to May 4.

United Methodist policy affirms that “God’s people must stand in solidarity with the migrants in our midst.” A resolution from the 2008 General Conference calls on the U. S. government “to immediately cease all arrests, detainment, and deportations of undocumented immigrants, including children, solely based upon their immigration status until a fair and comprehensive immigration reform is passed.” (“Welcoming the Migrant to the US,” The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, 2008, Resolution 3281, pp. 412-420.)

A Florida Case

United Methodists are active in efforts in Florida to block the building of a massive privately run immigration detention center in the Town of Southwest Ranches, near Miami. The developer is the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Amid mounting opposition, the neighboring City of Pembroke Pines cut off the water that CCA needs for the construction. CCA is suing the town in response, “and CCA and Southwest Ranches keep moving forward with the project,” says the Rev. Audrey Warren, pastor of Branches United Methodist Church in Florida City, Fla. .

Rally speakers will call on organizations and persons of conscience not to invest in private prison corporations. The three major corporations in the prison business are CCA, the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. CCA and GEO made nearly 3 billion dollars in profit in 2010.

Responsible Investment

In late 2011, the United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, which manages the largest faith-based pension fund in the United States, adopted a sixth social screen to bring investments in private (for- profit) prisons in line with the denomination’s Social Principles. This led to their divestment from CCA and GEO corporations. Investments in private prisons by church units had been strongly questioned by the task force on immigration that is organizing the April 28 rally in Tampa.

The task force links the criminalization of “out of status” immigrants with the mass incarceration of people of color in the United States. Sixty per cent of the 2.3 million people currently jailed in the United States are racial or ethnic minority persons, with one of out every eight b lack males in their 20s incarcerated on any given day.

Furthermore, the denominational task force holds that detention of immigrants is expanding globally and that private prison corporations now operate detention centers in Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The United Methodist Task Force on Immigration, authorized by the 2008 General Conference, is composed of representatives from a coalition of denominational general agencies, ethnic caucuses and other organizations.

Last Updated: 04/09/2014
 
 

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