News Release

Corporations Are Profiting From Immigrant Detainees’ Labor

VICTORIA LAW, victorialawnyc at gmail.com, @LVikkiml
Law is a freelance journalist and author of Women Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. She just wrote the article “Corporations Are Profiting From Immigrant Detainee’s Labor. Some Say It’s Slavery” for the magazine In These Times.

She writes: “There’s reason to believe thousands of the roughly 35,000 people in immigrant detention are currently being coerced into labor. …

“Within the past year, four lawsuits have been filed by seven people who say they were victims of trafficking at the hands of the nation’s two largest private detention center operators: CoreCivic and GEO Group. The suits charge that at five CoreCivic facilities and one GEO Group facility, the corporations violated the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act by threatening solitary confinement or withholding basic necessities, such as food, toilet paper and soap, if detainees refused to work. According to the lawsuits, the companies did so to reduce labor costs and maximize profits.

“The four new suits join one already wending its way through the court system. …

“Each of these five lawsuits concerns the Voluntary Work Program, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that puts detainees to work for $1 a day.

“‘The name “Voluntary Work Program” is misleading since, in most cases, it actually means forced labor,’ says Liz Martinez, director of advocacy and strategic communications at Freedom for Immigrants, a nonprofit working to abolish immigrant detention. Noting that detained people are wholly dependent upon detention staff for basics such as food, toilet paper and even time outside, ‘the detention facilities create an inhospitable atmosphere that incentivizes people to join these Voluntary Work Programs,’ she explains. …

“‘When I arrived at Stewart [Detention Center in Georgia] I was faced with the impossible choice — either work for a few cents an hour or live without basic things like soap, shampoo, deodorant and food,’ said Guatemalan asylum-seeker Wilhen Hill Barrientos in a recent press release announcing his lawsuit against CoreCivic. …

“The Voluntary Work Program dates back to 1950. Its $1 a day rate has yet to be adjusted for inflation (and would be equivalent to $10.40 a day now). In 2013, the 55 detention centers where the program operated held 76 percent of the country’s detained immigrants. …

“In 2012, Congress approved an act mandating that ICE maintain a daily minimum of 34,000 detention beds. In May 2017, Congress provided ICE with an additional $2.6 billion to increase the beds by another 5,300. In 2017, an average of 39,322 people were in immigrant detention each day, a huge jump from 5,532 in 1994. Private corporations control over 60 percent of immigrant detention beds. …

“In 2017, one-quarter of (CoreCivic’s) $444.1 million revenue came from ICE detention.”