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Immigrants Accuse California Detention Center of Labor Abuses

By Leah Kessler

On January 2, 2018, five detained immigrants filed a class action against CoreCivic, Inc. (CoreCivic), the second largest private corrections company in the United States. In Owino v. CoreCivic, Inc., the plaintiffs allege forced labor practices and violations of federal and state anti-trafficking laws.

CoreCivic operates nation-wide U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, which hold detained immigrants as they await their immigration hearings. The plaintiffs were placed at Otay Mesa Detention Center, a privately-run, 1,500-bed detention facility in San Diego. According to the complaint, CoreCivic forced plaintiffs and other detainees to provide labor at a daily rate of $1 to $1.50 upon threat of solitary confinement. Moreover, the plaintiffs claim that CoreCivic’s practices also violate state and federal regulations by forcing detainees to work so they can obtain basic necessities, such as warm clothing, water, food, medicine, and hygiene products, that CoreCivic would otherwise withhold from them.

This case is not the first of its kind. In March, 2017, we blogged about a similar case in which nine detained immigrants filed a suit against GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), a contractor operating the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado, alleging that the private detention facility had forced more than 50,000 immigrants to work without pay or for $1 a day since 2004.

While ICE detention centers can be run by the government itself, in the majority of cases, they are run by private contractors like CoreCivic or GEO. According to the Project on Government Oversight, the number of privately run facilities is expected to increase under the Trump Administration and will likely not provide services that government-run facilities are obligated to provide, such as translation services or prompt medical care to detainees. As such, we should expect more allegations of this nature to arise from private detention facilities around the country.

 Fortunately, New York City has taken aggressive means to combat these labor and human rights violations with the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP). Funded by the New York City Council, NYIFUP provides free, high-quality legal representation to every low-income immigrant facing deportation the New York City area. NYIFUP is implemented by three public-defender organizations: The Bronx Defenders, The Legal Aid Society, and Brooklyn Defender Services. Under current law, those in immigration detention centers do not have a right to an attorney if they cannot afford one. Yet studies have found that 97 percent of detained immigrants without legal representation are unsuccessful in challenging their deportation. The attorneys working with NYIFUP help their clients spend less time in ICE custody and represent them in legal disputes, such as those occurring CoreCivic detention centers.

Unfortunately, many companies and businesses fail to meet the needs of their employers, reducing labor costs and expenses in order to increase profits. If you believe you are working under unfair conditions, including being subjected to wage violations, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

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