Immigration Camps and “Voluntary” Slave Labor

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Thousands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees held at camps operated by GEO Group will be able to sue the private prison firm for allegedly forcing them to work for $1 a day or for free, as reported yesterday by Capital & Main.

GEO is the country’s largest private prison company and holds more than 10,000 detainees. Its revenues have jumped from $1.7 billion in 2014 to $2.3 billion last year.

Most of the detainees eligible to sue were held at Adelanto Detention Facility in California. GEO calls the work program “voluntary,” but detainees claim that if they refused they were were threatened with solitary confinement or even criminal prosecution.

They say the company nets the company millions of dollars in wages it would have to pay to non-detainee workers. Work performed by detainees included scrubbing bathrooms, showers, toilets, and windows; cleaning GEO’s on-site medical facility and solitary confinement units; laundry, cooking, clerical work, and providing barber services.

Here’s an excerpt from the detainees’ original complaint in the case, Raul Novoa v. The GEO Group, Inc., filed in 2017:

  1. This action arises from systematic and unlawful wage theft, unjust enrichment, and forced labor at the nation’s deadliest civil immigration detention facility—California’s Adelanto
    Detention Center (the “Adelanto Facility” or the “Facility”).
  2. The Adelanto Facility is a civil immigration detention facility owned and operated for profit by Defendant The GEO Group, Inc. (“GEO”).
  3. GEO is a multibillion-dollar corporation that owns and operates detention facilities around the world. GEO has made tens of millions of dollars in profits from its contract to run the Adelanto Facility.
  4. Although it is contractually required to provide for all essential detention services at the Facility, GEO uses the nearly-free labor of detainees to perform these services in order to maximize profits.
  5. GEO pays detainees just $1 per day to maintain and operate the Facility.
  6. This labor is not voluntary in any meaningful sense. GEO maintains a corporate policy and uniform practice at the Adelanto Facility of withholding necessary care from its detainees to ensure a ready supply of available labor needed to operate the Facility. As a result, detainees are forced to submit to GEO’s $1 per day scheme in order to buy the basic necessities – including food, water, and hygiene products – that GEO refuses to provide for them.
  7. GEO maintains a corporate policy and uniform practice at the Adelanto Facility of threatening detainees who refuse to work with disciplinary segregation or solitary confinement, reporting their actions to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or referring them for criminal prosecution. These abusive practices and threats of abuse ensure that detainees will continue working for subminimum wages.
  8. GEO significantly reduces its labor costs and expenses, and increases its already vast profits, by unlawfully forcing and coercing detainees to perform labor at sub-minimum wages. These policies and practices violate California minimum wage law, the California Unfair Competition Law, and federal and state Trafficking Victims Protection Acts, which prohibit forced labor.

GEO has denied the allegations. “The wage rates associated with this federal government program are established under long-established guidelines set by the United States Congress,” it said in a recent statement. “Any allegation that individuals, in ICE Processing Centers, are retaliated against or have to volunteer to work in order to have access to, or pay for, basic hygiene products or food is completely baseless and demonstrably false.”

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