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Immigrant Detainees Subjected to Forced Labor in Private Prisons, Lawsuit Claims

In this 2011 photo, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers make an arrest. A current class-action lawsuit claims immigrant detainees were forced into slave labor at private prisons in the United States. Wikimedia Commons
April M. Short / AlterNet

By April M. Short / AlterNet

As many as 60,000 immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could play a role in a new class-action lawsuit accusing a private prison company of violating federal anti-slavery laws. The lawsuit alleges that detained immigrants awaiting court dates were forced to work for $1 per day or for free, on threat of solitary confinement.

It was initially filed on behalf of nine immigrant plaintiffs in 2014 for $5 million in damages, but was recently moved to class action status. Now, attorneys expect damages to grow substantially, maybe involving tens of thousands of plaintiffs, as Kristine Phillips reports in a March 5 Washington Post piece that details the lawsuit.

Phillips also notes in her article that this is “the first time a class-action lawsuit accusing a private U.S. prison company of forced labor has been allowed to move forward.”

The lawsuit was initially filed against a Florida-based corporation called GEO Group, which oversees a number of detention facilities that house immigrants who are awaiting court. In particular, GEO Group owns Denver Contract Detention Facility, which was the focus of the initial lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims the detention company’s alleged practice of forcing select immigrant detainees to work for little to no pay each day, is a violation of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The Act was reauthorized in 2003, 2005, and 2008 and seeks to prevent modern-day versions of slavery.

You can read Phillips’ detailed Washington Post article on the lawsuit here.

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