Two detention centers are facing legal pressure for paying immigrants $1 a day for working in the centers' kitchens, cleaning or performing other tasks.
Geo Group Inc. and CoreCivic Inc. are named in lawsuits accusing them of breaking federal laws that prohibit forced labor and unjust enrichment, as well as state minimum-wage requirements at the facilities, which hold immigrants who are detained while seeking asylum, accused of living illegally in the United States, or who are caught crossing the Mexican border into the United States, reports The Wall Street Journal.
The companies say the migrant programs are voluntary and sanctioned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Attorney Andrew Free, who represents several of the plaintiffs, told The Wall Street Journal that the immigrants affected are not prisoners, as they haven't been convicted of crimes.
"The key distinction is because immigration detention is civil in nature," said Free. "The people in these places cannot be made to work against their will."
Congress established the $1 a day rate years ago, and ICE says detainees may volunteer to do such work. CoreCivic and Geo Group are two of the nation's largest private prison operators.
CoreCivic spokesman Steve Owen defended the practice, saying the work programs are consistent with those at other ICE facilities, while Geo spokesman Pablo Paez said the work program and wages are set by the government.
"As a service provider to the federal government, Geo is required to abide by these federally mandated standards and congressionally established guidelines," he commented.
"We set and deliver the same high standard of care — including three daily meals, access to healthcare and other everyday living needs — regardless of whether a detainee participates in a voluntary work program," Owen said.
Congressional Republicans last year sent a letter to ICE asking that the agency defend private prisons, while offering new guidance on the work program in hopes of preventing more lawsuits. ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said the agency has responded, but did not share what was said with The Wall Street Journal.
Under detention standards, immigrants may volunteer to work, but should not be required to do anything but personal housekeeping.
However, Kevin Landy, former director of the Office of Policy and Planning at ICE during President Barack Obama's administration, said private prisons are allowed to pay more than $1 a day, but instead "they are profiting off of it."
"To some extent detention facilities use detainee labor in place of paid employees doing their work," said Landy.
Geo said if it has to pay the detainees minimum wage, it would mean it will have to charge the government more for its services.
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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