Is Rubio "under the influence?"

Arnie Alpert on November 30, 2015
Marco Rubio again asserted that the immigrant detention mandate is justified by the need to enforce immigration laws, even while he criticized the role of "politically connected industries."

Marco Rubio’s plane was an hour late landing at the Laconia Airport, but for the most part the crowd waiting to meet the Florida Senator didn’t seem to mind.  When he finally arrived, his stump speech touched on widely felt economic anxiety, an all-of-the-above energy policy, vocational training, and building up naval, air, and land-based military forces.  Questions gave him more opportunity to discuss climate, refugees, and the need to close tax loopholes “that have been put in there by politically connected industries.”   

Since he didn’t call on me, I waded into the crowed of selfie-takers and stood next to the Senator while a man asked him about foreign aid.  Rubio emphasized foreign aid is a useful foreign policy tool, “not to mention the right thing to do,” and pointed out it’s “a very small proportion of our overall budget.”

I thanked him for providing factual information about foreign aid and said I wanted to ask him about a “politically connected industry,” the private prison industry.   

“We’ve actually got a provision in the Homeland Security budget that requires 34,000 immigrants a day to be locked up, and almost two-thirds of them are in private prisons which lobby and donate to campaigns, including yours,” I began.  “I’m wondering if we can get rid of that kind of …”

At this point Senator Rubio interrupted, “We’ve got to enforce our immigration laws.  Where people are detained is up to the agencies…”

This time I interrupted him.  “Our immigration laws don’t require us to put people in private prisons,” I said.    

“But if the facilities don’t exist,” he responded, and added “the states do the same thing.”

I pointed out that the states are moving away from privatization, which is why the private corporations are turning to the Feds for contracts.

“We do have to enforce our immigration laws,” he repeated.   

I tried to point out that immigrants are being detained to comply with the immigrant detention mandate in the federal budget, not because of immigration law or because they are a danger to the country.

“Some people don’t show up to their immigration hearings,” the Senator said, and turned to another person.

Studies show that community-based alternatives to detention are more humane and more cost effective, but I didn’t get a chance today to inform Senator Rubio. 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the GEO Group’s Political Action Committee has contributed $5000 to Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign this year.  The Florida-based company, the nation’s second largest for-profit prison corporation, also contributed $5000 to Rubio’s Senate campaign in the 2014 cycle.  

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Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert is co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program, which he has led since 1981.  In that time he has been involved in movements for economic justice and affordable housing, civil and worker rights, peace and disarmament, abolition of the death penalty, and an end to racism and homophobia.