Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Halliburton: Let Us, um, Detain You

In the past few weeks, we've seen plenty of people protesting the low wages, low status, and unfair treatment suffered by those who come to the United States "under the radar" (as in, illegally) because they're desperate for work. They toil in our fields, clean our houses, mow our lawns, and generally do anything and everything for low pay and no benefits, often working outrageously long hours. They want to be here legitimately; that's mainly what they're asking for. Acceptance, the opportunity to work without fear, and the chance to dream the American Dream. They often pay taxes and social security contributions into the system using false numbers, knowing they'll never be able to receive that money when they're older and figuring they'd rather pay it anyway if it means they can work in the States. Because they'll still make more money than they would in their home countries.

But there's an immigration issue that few are talking about: detention. What happens to those who are rounded up en masse and held before they're sent home, wherever home is?

Large facilities, such as Krome Detention Center in Miami, already exist, of course. And should our government see the need to round up even more humans, they're busy making plans to build more. Writing for the The Progressive, Ruth Conniff reports:

While thousands of people were celebrating the contribution America's undocumented immigrants make to our economy, and demanding justice and recognition for workers who are denied basic rights, the government was making plans for large-scale detention centers in case of an "emergency influx" of immigrants.

KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary recently reprimanded for gross overcharging in its military contracts in Iraq, won a $385 million contract to build the centers. According to the Halliburton"the contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs."

There is so much to question here, one's head spins. Let's start with this: what are we doing awarding $385 million contracts to Halliburton when there are still so many unanswered questions about the colossal waste of taxpayer dollars and overbilling (fraud, anyone?) perpetrated by this company, on America's behalf, in Iraq?

And I'm really curious about something else: why large detention centers, and why now? Then there is the disturbing issue raised by that last sentence in Halliburton's message: "...rapid development of new programs."

What new programs might those be?

The web was abuzz with speculation after the contract was awarded on January 24. Pacific News Service gave the most detailed analysis.

It connected the new "immigration emergency" plans with older plans that involved imposing martial law.

Certainly the detention centers raise the specter of WW II Japanese internment camps.

The new facilities could be used for round-ups of Muslim Americans or other American citizens tagged as "enemy combatants.”

The use of military personnel and military contractors in the event of a Katrina-like disaster, which the Halliburton contract provides for, brings us closer to martial law, whether it is officially declared or not.

It also means record profits for Halliburton, which declared 2005 "the best in our 86-year history." David Lesar, Halliburton's chairman, president and CEO, declares on the company website, "For the full year 2005 we set a record for revenue and achieved net income of $2.4 billion with each of our six divisions posting record results."

Not bad for a company that has been repeatedly cited for inflating charges and wasting taxpayer money in Iraq.

The immigration detention centers ought to raise a red flag, not just about nepotism and waste among military contractors, but about what our government has in store for us.

A note to those in the mainstream media: we're all a little tired of hearing about cheerleaders disappearing in Aruba and strange, cult-following celebrities giving birth in silence. Would you kindly do your jobs and tell us what the hell is going on lest Orwell himself rise up from his grave and bonk you on the collective head with a first edition hardback copy of 1984?

Hat-tip to my friend Lisa in DC.

UPDATE: I visited the Halliburton Website at 4:30pm EST today, and found the KBR section (where information about the detention center contract would appear) to be "temporarily unavailable".

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