How a bill becomes a law — 2010 version

HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW — 2010 VERSION…. When Arizona considered and passed its infamous anti-immigrant measure earlier this year, it was easy to see it as the result of a rise in right-wing bigotry. But how the proposal came to be is actually more complicated than that.

NPR has a remarkable report this week about Arizona’s SB1070, which requires those who can’t prove their citizenship to be locked up after law enforcement thinks they might appear to have entered the country illegally. But it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t anti-immigrant, Republican, or Tea Party groups that came up with the idea.

NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry.

The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

Late last year, a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held a meeting in D.C. for its members, which include state lawmakers, assorted organizations like the NRA, and powerful corporations like ExxonMobil. The billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America was also on hand, and connected with state Sen. Russell Pearce (R), who’s spearheaded anti-immigrant efforts in Arizona.

A business model was born. As the report explained, “According to Corrections Corporation of America reports reviewed by NPR, executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market.”

So, at the ALEC event, members discussed and debated language, and sent Pearce back to Arizona with a proposal in hand. Four months later, NPR’s piece noted, “that model legislation became, almost word for word, Arizona’s immigration law.”

In case this doesn’t appear quite nefarious enough for you, also note that most of the co-sponsors of SB1070 were attendees to the ALEC event. The Corrections Corporation of America quickly hired a powerful new lobbyist, and 30 of the 36 co-sponsors received donations from prison lobbyists or prison companies.

And wouldn’t you know it, the bill quickly sailed through the state legislature, and onto Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.