Summary: A class action lawsuit claims almost 60,000 ICE detainees were forced into slavery.
A Lawsuit claims that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) forced immigrants into slave labor. The suit which was originally filed in 2014 reached class-action status this week after a federal judge’s ruling.
According to The Washington Post, almost 60,000 detained immigrants may have been forced to work for free or else face punishment, a violation of modern anti-slavery laws. The lawsuit was filed against one of the largest private prison companies in the country, and this could be the first time a suit like this has been allowed to move forward.
The lawsuit focuses on the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado. The 1,500 bed private prison is operated by GEO Group, who is under contract by ICE; and the center’s purpose is to house immigrants waiting for their court date.
The original nine plaintiffs were seeking $5 million in damages, but their attorneys believe the new class-action status may grow the award.
The lawsuit alleged that ICE randomly picks six detainees daily and forces them to clean the prison for $1 a day or for free. It said that if people refused they were threatened with solitary confinement.
The plaintiffs claim that this cleaning practice violates the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which forbids slavery. Plaintiff’s attorney Andrew Free said that forcing labor with threats is illegal and that the defendants benefited by using cheap labor.
“Forced labor is a particular violation of the statute that we’ve alleged,” Free told The Washington Post. “Whether you’re calling it forced labor or slavery, the practical reality for the plaintiffs is much the same. You’re being compelled to work against your will under the threat of force or use of force.”
GEO Group has denied any wrongdoing and said that $1 a day does not violate any laws because prisoners are volunteers.
“The volunteer work program at immigration facilities as well as the wage rates and standards associated with the program are set by the Federal government,” GEO Group said. “Our facilities, including the Aurora, Colo. Facility, are highly rated and provide high-quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments pursuant to the Federal Government’s national standards.”
ICE was not a named defendant in the lawsuit. The volunteer program that GEO was referring to is administered by ICE as a way to provide detainees a way to earn money, ICE said. Additionally, ICE explained that volunteers are not required to do any work beyond clean after their living spaces.
Detainees in the volunteer program work 40 hour weeks doing chores such as preparing meals or cleaning bathrooms. Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University said that ICE is mislabeling their program, which does not meet volunteer work standards under current labor laws.
“Just slapping the word ‘volunteer’ in front of ‘work program’ doesn’t exempt the prison firm from paying legally mandated wages any more than McDonald’s can use ‘volunteer’ senior citizens and pay them Big Macs,” Stevens said.
Stevens added that the purpose of prison labor is to punish prisoners and rehabilitate them. Immigrants, however, do not need either action inflicted upon them.
GEO Group filed a motion to dismiss in 2014 and said that Colorado minimum wage laws do not apply to immigrant detainees. U.S. District Judge John Kane agreed with GEO Group about this, but he said that it was wrong for the prison group to threaten detainees into working and thus allowed the lawsuit to move forward as a class-action suit.
- Related: Lawyer Disbarred for Sex with Immigration Clients
- Related: President Trump Signs Revised Travel Ban
- Related: Backlog of Immigration Cases
Source: The Washington Post
Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune
What do you think about this lawsuit? Let us know in the comments below.