Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains more than , people annually. That translates to , detainees held on any given day in the roughly immigrant detention facilities overseen by ICE. More than % are held in facilities run by private prison companies, and about % by GEO Group and CoreCivic
On Jan. wrote Congress, imploring it to investigate suspected labor abuse at immigrant detention centers. The independent, bipartisan federal agency cited detainee complaints of being pressured to clean and maintain facilities for $ a day — a pay rate that allows private prisons to hold down their costs and boost their profits., , the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
The commission is concerned with the added pressure to coerce detainees to perform necessary labor in order to maximize profits,” it warned.
Four years later, Congress has yet to hold the hearing. And the $‑a-day pay persists, which has enabled some prison companies to save tens of millions a year over what they would otherwise have to pay outside workers.
Nothing has changed,” says Andrew Free, an Atlanta-based civil rights lawyer Forced labor is still going on throughout the [immigrant detention] system. There’s been no federal decision to stop it.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Washington works hand-in-hand with private prison companies, who spend millions on lobbyists, campaign contributions and revolving-door hires — all to turn our criminal and immigration policies into ones that prioritize making them rich instead of keeping us safe.”
In and GEO and CoreCivic spent about $ million and $ . million, respectively, on lobbying, and another $ , and $ , on campaign contributions via their PACs — % to Republicans .
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat and chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, unsuccessfully pushed for a detainee pay hike. These people are washing floors, cleaning toilets, for $ a day,” she says. That’s ridiculous. I’d like to see anyone [who opposes a pay hike] work for $ a day.”
A Democratic proposal to increase detainee pay died when it failed to have enough support to be included in a massive fiscal spending bill.
A federal jury found the GEO Group, a private prison company, in violation of the state of Washington’s minimum wage law. GEO appealed. It contends detainees are volunteers, not employees entitled to minimum wage protection. The trial heard evidence that detainees volunteer” to work under pressure, as they have no other means to earn money. Other lawsuits accuse prison companies of threatening detainees with solitary confinement.
At an immigrant detention center in Lumpkin, Georgia, Wilhen Hill Barrientos, a plaintiff in a suit against another private prison testified it gave him an impossible choice: either work for a few cents an hour, or live without basics things like soap, shampoo, deodorant and food” and be unable to afford to call his family back home in Guatemala. he was made to work eight to nine-hour shifts in the kitchen, seven days a week. He stated that guards twice threatened him with solitary confinement because they thought he and others were planning a work stoppage.
The th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in after the Civil War, banned slavery and involuntary servitude — except as a punishment for conviction of a crime. Immigrant detainees — who include asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants and documented immigrants whose status is under review — are not held on criminal charges. Instead, they are in civil detention where they wait weeks, months or even years for a federal court to decide if they can stay in the United States or will be deported. Many lawmakers don’t seem to see or recognize the distinction between criminal conviction and civil detention.
Heidi Altman, policy director for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which supports ending immigration detention, says, Members of Congress who say they stand with immigrant communities should be yelling and screaming … to ensure that in the next [federal] spending bill, not one taxpayer dollar goes toward enriching private prison companies. But instead, we’re hearing a lot of silence.”
What’s going on is obvious,” says Paul Light, a political science professor at New York University. Those benefiting from the alleged forced labor make campaign contributions. Those working in the substandard conditions don’t have any political clout.
GEO Group CEO George Zoley wrote that if detainee pay was increased to the prevailing local wage, it would cost his company as much as $ million annually.
GEO and CoreCivic use of detainee labor rather than hire outside help has succeeded to together save $ million since , at an average of more than $ million a year. Those figures are likely conservative. In a Georgetown Immigration Law Journal paper, Professor Stevens calculated that in , the two companies’ labor-cost savings totaled between $ million and $ million.
That’s money lost to the local host communities — money that would have been used to hire and pay janitors, cooks, dishwashers, barbers, beauticians, painters, plumbers, librarians, clerks and other non-security posts. Those jobs would generally be under mandate to pay the federal contractor minimum wage, which in was $ . an hour, plus $ . in benefits. It is now $ an hour (raised in January by a Biden executive order), plus another $ . an hour in benefits.
While Congress and private prison companies have declined to raise detainees’ pay floor, annual appropriations from ICE to GEO and CoreCivic have soared more than % — from $ million in to $ million in — for a five-year total of nearly $ . billion.
Andrea Carcamo is the policy director at Freedom for Immigrants, an advocacy group devoted to eliminating immigration detention. Private prison companies operate under the incentive to maximize their profit, and as such, it’s not surprising they cut corners at the expense of dehumanizing people in detention.”
[The blog would also add it highlights the hypocrisy of those American politicians who condemn China's forced labor of Uighurs but permit the forced labor of migrants]