Detained immigrants received a favorable judgment from a federal appeals court in June regarding labor practices during detention.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court ruled the detainees can move forward with a suit against a major operator of private prisons for forcing them to perform manual labor for little or no pay, in violation of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s policies, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In 2017, two ex-detainees filed a class-action lawsuit against CoreCivic, a private company that has contracts with ICE to house immigrants awaiting deportation hearings.
In response to the suit, Ryan Gustin, spokesperson for Core-Civic said, “All work programs at our ICE detention facilities are completely voluntary and operated in full compliance with ICE standards, including federally established minimum wage rates for detainee volunteer labor.”
In June 2022, the Ninth U.S. Circuit judges ruled unanimously that evidence produced by former detainees showed that CoreCivic required everyone housed at its facility to perform manual labor under rules which contradict the personal work requirements of ICE. This ruling affirms a federal judge’s 2020 judgment to let the suit go forth as a class action.
ICE policies state that detained immigrants should not be required to do manual labor save for keeping their cells clean and making their beds.
The lawsuit claims detainees were required by CoreCivic’s formal policy, “to remove trash, sweep, mop, clean toilets …” for $1 a day or without pay.
The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution along with the California Constitution—prohibits the use of forced labor except when one is convicted and punished for a crime. California prisons have been depending on this forced labor for years.
“I think it’s modern-day slavery,” said Michael Williams, who has been at San Quen-tin for 13 years with multiple work assignments. “How do they expect us to live on eight cents an hour when most dudes in here have to pay restitution? How can you pay for hygiene, food, etc., when they are taking 50% of everything we earn? How can we survive?”
To understand the contrast that exists between the two experiences, it is important to note that immigrants detained in these private prisons have not been convicted of any crime. However, people sentenced to state and federal prisons have been duly convicted.
According to the Chronicle, the former detainees who filed the lawsuit said that disobeying a cleaning order could land them in solitary confinement, a violation of ICE policies.
In part because of these types of reports, California passed legislation in 2019 to cancel all contracts with private facilities when current contracts end, or by 2028.
Legislators who authored the measure stated that coupled with the increased difficulty to inspect or regulate these private prisons, conditions at these facilities are poorer than in state prisons. However, the new law is being challenged in court.
For the class-action lawsuit, the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled that CoreCivic, in future proceedings, has the option to try to limit the class-action to only detainees that were in custody in 2010 or later.
Immigrants’ rights activists will be watching this case closely.