Immigrants who have been detained in a private prison in San Diego allege that that they have been subjected to forced labor and threatened with solitary confinement or restricted visitation rights if they refused to work.
The class action lawsuit names CoreCivic, a private prison company contracted by the United States government to hold detainees in the custody of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The San Diego Union Tribune reports that this case hinges on the difference between treatment for those detained for criminal offenses and those held on civil charges:
The class-action lawsuit, filed Wednesday in San Diego federal court, alleges that immigrants at Otay Mesa Detention Center are paid at most $1.50 per day, and sometimes not paid at all, for their work as kitchen staff, janitors, barbers and various other roles. It further alleges that the facility doesn’t provide all of the basic necessities that detainees need for daily life, like soap, which means they have to work in order to buy those items at the commissary.
While work programs that pay little are common in prisons, the complaint argues that there is a legal difference for those in the immigration system.
The complaint hinges on the fact that immigration court is a civil court system, not a criminal one. That means that, unlike people in jail or prison, those going through the immigration court system cannot be detained as punishment.
ICE has authority to detain someone only if the agency believes that person won’t show up in court or if the agency suspects the person would be dangerous to society if released.
ICE’s own detention standard sets standards for contracted companies like CoreCivic, wherein all work should be done voluntarily and compensated by a minimum of $1 per day. The lawsuit charges that the environment at the prison gives detainees no choice and violates state and federal human trafficking laws. “This labor is not voluntary in any meaningful sense,” reads the complaint.
By paying detainees nearly nothing, the lawsuit says CoreCivic was able to “exponentially” increase its profits through cheap or free labor.