ICE Private Prison Facing Lawsuit For Ignoring Anti-Slavery Law

Right now, immigrants in the United States are fretting over the increasingly aggressive actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. So far the agency has been documented conducting raids across the country, performing swift deportations in some cases, and the Department of Homeland Security is allegedly considering breaking up families deliberately.

These actions follow in the wake of executive orders signed by President Trump, some which reversed Obama’s easing of immigration enforcement.

That’s not to say that ICE was not busy at work during Obama’s presidency though.

A lawsuit originally filed in 2014 accuses GEO Group of exploiting thousands of immigrants being held at its Denver Contract Detention Facility, located in Aurora, Colo., for labor. It goes so far as to allege GEO of coercing detainees into working by using threats of force and solitary confinement; many were paid merely $1 daily, if anything at all. The lawsuit claims that these people frequently worked 40-hour weeks.

Headquartered in Florida, GEO Group is one of the largest, most profitable private prison corporations in the world. They are especially close to ICE and have various contracts with the agency to hold its detainees.

In many situations, these individuals are held before having a court ruling. This was the case for the lawsuit’s original nine plaintiffs – at least one of whom was later determined to be a permanent legal resident.

The lawsuit filing initially sought $5 million in damages, based on the argument that GEO Group had violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This law specifically prohibits forced labor within the U.S. It also states that GEO, when it did pay for detainee labor, only paid $1 per day – far below Colorado’s legal minimum wage.

Readers may be aware of the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which is best known for abolishing forced labor while maintaining an exception for convicted criminals. The difference in this case is that those held at this GEO prison had yet to be convicted of any crime.

Through a recent ruling from U.S. District Judge John Kane, the lawsuit has now been expanded to form a class action lawsuit. This means that roughly 60,000 individuals currently or previously held at the Colorado facility will be included as plaintiffs without having to actively opt in.

This development means this case, even if it does not succeed, will go down as a significant milestone for the rights of private prison detainees – never before has a class action of this nature been approved.

It is also important because, if nothing else, the class action lawsuit may serve as a slowing mechanism for both the Trump administration’s increasingly hard line policies against immigrants and its rapid reversal of advances made in private prison reform under President Obama.

These two issues – privatized incarceration and immigration crack downs – are deeply linked. Though the previous attorney general, Loretta Lynch, ordered the Bureau of Prisons to wind down its use of private prisons (a move that has already been reversed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions), this order did not encompass ICE – the largest agency in the U.S. to utilize contract prisons. This is because ICE works under Department of Homeland Security and not under the Department of Justice.

Private prison corporations like GEO Group laud their services as being cost effective when compared to traditional incarceration facilities. While this claim is highly debatable (or even debunked, per a Department of Justice report), one of the primary ways cost-saving is achieved is by cutting corners: Hiring inexperienced staff, building poor quality facilities, providing inmates with substandard and fewer living goods (like soap or toothpaste) and, as this lawsuit highlights, exploiting inmate labor.

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Photo Credit: ICE / Wikimedia Commons

60 comments

John J
John J10 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J10 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jack Y
Jack Y10 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y10 months ago

thanks

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Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

thank you for posting

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Telica R
Telica R1 years ago

I agree Lady.F

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M S
M S1 years ago

Järkyttävää.

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Peggy B
Peggy B1 years ago

Any updates for this?

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Carl R
Carl R2 years ago

Thanks!!!

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Deborah W
Deborah W2 years ago

A lawsuit filed in 2014 ACCUSES the GEO Group of exploiting thousands of immigrants (legal or illegal?) being held for labor. WHAT? Also ALLEGES coercing detainees into work using threats of force and solitary confinement; saying many were paid merely $1 daily, if anything at all. The lawsuit also CLAIMS that these people frequently worked 40-hour weeks. In many situations, these individuals are held BEFORE having a court ruling. This was the case for the lawsuit’s original nine plaintiffs – at least one of whom was later determined to be a permanent legal resident. And the other 8? Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law that specifically prohibits forced labor within the U.S., though readers should be made aware that the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (best known for abolishing forced labor, maintains an EXCEPTION for convicted criminals). The difference here is that those being held have not been convicted, yet are being held until that decision has been reached. ( Not turning them loose on and allowed to disappear into society with small to no chance of rearrest once convicted of crime seems perfectly reasonable to me.) True privatized incarceration and immigration crack downs ARE deeply linked ... yet only brought up when beneficial to one side of a two-sided disagreement. Since someone has to do it, why not GEO. Another form of corruption, maybe, but if unproven si

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