Friday, December 3, 2021

Overworked, Underpaid Immigration Detainees Owed Millions in Back Pay

The GEO Group, operator of a for-profit detention center, violated Washington’s minimum wage laws, and owes $17.3 million in back pay to immigration detainees. 

Washington’s attorney general sued the GEO group in 2017, it was determined that the company only paid detainees $1 per day. The company reported over $2 billion in revenue in 2020. 

Detainees at the center often did janitorial work. They cleaned showers and toilets, mopped floors and sometimes cooked more than 4,000 meals a day for fellow detainees. 

In court filings, the company argued that detainees were not employees under state law, and Washington pays prisoners in its correction facilities less than state minimum wage. 

The case focused on detainees who were mainly from Mexico and Central America and had worked at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma since 2014. More than 10,000 of those current and former detainees will receive compensation, with some of them receiving less than $20, while others will be awarded more than $30,000. 

A lawyer representing former detainees said that those who no longer reside in the U.S. may not receive any compensation if they are difficult to locate.

“But we’re going to undertake robust efforts to try and find them or get the word out so that they can get in touch with us,” he said.

While detainees in facilities aren’t forced to work, many detainees see no choice because they need money to call friends and family, use the internet, pay for stamps, or purchase snacks.

The detainees at the Tacoma center were being held while their immigration status was being sorted out. Most had never been convicted of a crime, and of those who had, had already served their sentence.

The attorney representing the detainees stated that they are “deserving of fair pay for the work that they do keeping the facilities running.”

The New York Times

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