A court has recently ruled that migrant detainees in California can sue the private prison company that operates the detention center they were held in over allegations of forced labor.
Forced labor in immigration detention
Migrants who have committed no crimes but are awaiting the outcome of their immigration hearings are held in prison-like conditions in detention centers run by private prison companies. CoreCivic is one of these companies that has contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In 2017, former detainees at prisons owned by CoreCivic – the largest private prison corporation in the U.S. – launched a class-action lawsuit against the company over work they were forced to carry out on daily basis.
Detainees have reported being forced to clean toilets and kitchens for next to no pay. Former detainees allege being paid up to $1 and if they refused to work, they risked solitary confinement.
This goes against ICE’s own policies that state that detainees should not be required to carry out work except for maintaining their personal space. For those choosing to take part in voluntary work programs, they should be paid at least $1 a day.
The suit against CoreCivic claims violations of California laws against forced labor and federal laws against human trafficking, and was filed on behalf of immigrants held in California as early as 2006, and in facilities elsewhere since December 2008.
Upholding a federal judge’s decision in 2020 that allowed the case to proceed as a class action, the appeals court said in a 3-0 ruling Friday that two former detainees had offered evidence that CoreCivic required all inmates to work under rules that appeared to conflict with the personal-housekeeping limits announced by ICE. The court said, however, that CoreCivic could attempt in future proceedings to limit the class action to inmates who were in custody in 2010 or later.
Multiple reports from detainees on conditions amounting to forced labor in detention centers prompted California’s Governor Newsom to authorize legislation in 2019 to phase out the state’s contracts with private prisons by 2028.
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