Immigrants sue private prison company GEO Group over $1 a day wagesJuly 18, 2022
“We want to be very clear: We are human beings and we have rights,” labor strikers said in the statement. “GEO and ICE run these facilities with unchecked power. We are inspired in our fight by detained workers in Washington State, who sued GEO and won $17 million on back pay, and detained workers in Adelanto and Aurora, who are fighting for recognition of their rights as workers.”
Last fall, a court determined that GEO Group had violated Washington state’s minimum wage laws by paying immigrants jailed at the Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) $1 a day for their forced labor. The federal jury awarded more than $17 million to immigrants, and another $6 million to the state for “unjust enrichment.” While the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington upheld the settlement, the private prison profiteer has continued to fight the case.
Then rather than pay detained workers their fair wages for their continued work, GEO Group shut down NWIPC’s “voluntary” work program. This company is pure garbage.
Officials at Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex have basically put detained workers in a situation where they’ll be the ones to directly suffer if they refuse to work, because they’re the ones responsible for the upkeep of the facilities. “If and when detained immigrants fail to perform uncompensated or undercompensated labor, they must live in dirty and unsanitary conditions,” the complaint said. “Such conditions were bad enough prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but have been more harmful and even dangerous since the pandemic began.”
“We too are here to say that enough is enough,” workers continued in the statement. “This lawsuit is not just about labor exploitation with the $1-a-day pay, it is about the never-ending list of violations that put our lives–and the lives of thousands across the country–at risk, and the dehumanization of immigrants.”
A federal judge in December 2020 condemned the handling of COVID-19 at the facility, writing that “[f]rom the start of the public health crisis until now, the conduct of the key ICE and GEO officials in charge of operations at Mesa Verde has been appalling.” He said that “officials knew that they needed a clear and detailed plan to minimize the risk of an outbreak (and to contain an outbreak if one occurred), but nine months later they still have not created one.” Internal emails in fact revealed that officials scrapped a plan to test all detainees because they wouldn’t be able to isolate people who tested positive.
Officials have also previously retaliated against immigrants who have ultimately been detained at Mesa Verde. Centro Legal de la Raza staff attorney Susan Beaty told The Fresno Bee last fall that people who’d been detained at Golden State Annex were moved in the middle of the night to Mesa Verde after complaining about inhumane and dangerous conditions. “[T]he fact that those folks were targeted for transfers, I think, speaks volumes,” Beaty told The Fresno Bee. “There isn’t a way to prove that, but it’s hard to look at the facts and who they targeted and not conclude that this is retaliation for the complaint.”