In Washington, D.C., a group of 18 Republican congressmen are trying to convince the Trump administration to shield private prisons from lawsuits alleging immigrant detainees are forced to work for a wage of $1 a day, The Washington Post reported.
At least five lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including The GEO Group and CoreCivic, over issues including detainee compensation.
The Daily Beast was first to report that a letter from the congressmen to top federal officials argued that the detainees are not technically employees of the private prisons and therefore should not be able to file lawsuits pursuing payment for their labor.
“Alien detainees should not be able to use immigration detention as a means of obtaining stable employment that will encourage them to pursue frivolous claims to remain in the country and in detention for as long as possible,” said the letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan.
The letter also included the group’s expectation that the federal government would inevitably join the debate and urged the addressed officials to “take the position that these lawsuits lack legal merit and should be dismissed.”
The lawsuits alleged that the private prison companies use voluntary work programs as a loophole to violate multiple labor laws such as state minimum wage laws and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Washington state sued GEO last year for violating its minimum wage standard of $11 an hour. Because GEO is a private company detaining people on civil charges, the state argued that the company should follow their wage requirements.
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“This is detention, not a competitive work environment,” GEO attorney Joan Mell told a federal judge last November.
Inmates in Colorado and California also have lawsuits pending against The GEO Group. The suits describe immigrant detainees being forced to work janitorial and clerical jobs to pay for daily necessities like food and water for only a dollar per day.
Those who refused were punished by “disciplinary segregation or solitary confinement” or referred for criminal prosecution, one of the lawsuits alleged. The company has denied allegations that detainees are forced to work against their will.
GEO is asking that the case be dismissed, asserting that the federal rate for work performed by detainees overrides the Washington state minimum wage law.
The congressmen’s letter that was filed with the U.S. District Court asserted that paying the detainees more than $1 a day as required by federal law would “provide an unnecessary windfall to the detainees, and drain the federal government of limited taxpayer resources.”
They also asserted that immigrant advocates, including sanctuary cities, have filed “nuisance lawsuits” to raise costs of immigration detention and ultimately diminish the overall level of immigration enforcement, reported The Washington Post.