Strolling around the sleepy town of Natchez, Mississippi (pop. 15,672) one may never discover that a flourishing business generating hundreds of millions of dollars in lucrative contracts lies just up the Richard Wright Memorial Highway. “They ship these people here, mostly Mexicans, like they’re some kind of commodity,” recently observed Adams County Sheriff’s Deputy, Monroe Sago, who also happens to run a museum of African American history in Natchez.
Deputy Sago is referring to the neighboring operations of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a U.S. company that profits by charging a per diem fee to imprison one of the country’s most destitute segments of society, undocumented immigrants. More than 2,500 immigrants are confined in the CCA prison after receiving federal prison sentences for entering the country without papers. Some arrive disoriented and still wearing clothes tattered by their harrowing journey north. Most certainly have no idea they are in a tourist destination of the antebellum South and will be warehoused for months, if not years, at a prison a private corporation built especially for them.
CCA Prison Warden Vance Laughlin assumes an almost prideful air when he announces at CCA’s community advisory meetings, held quarterly at the historic Dunleith Plantation, that his prisoners hail from 71 countries, with Mexico representing the largest contingency. Virtually all of them will be deported.
“Having a large Hispanic population has caused a problem,” Warden Laughlin told reporters in March 2010. He then proceeded to admit that while 81 percent of the 2,015 prisoners were Hispanic, he only had a total of six employees who spoke Spanish. At the time of these pronouncements, the prison already had been operating with prisoners for seven months.