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3 Mär 2023

Brian Osgood, Al Jazeera

USA: Forty-five detainees at GEO Group-operated immigration detention centres on hunger strike over 'slavery wages' & poor conditions

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"‘Slavery wages’ prompt hunger strike at ICE detention facilities", 3 March 2023


Martinez is one of about 45 detained people participating in a hunger strike unfolding at two facilities run by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in California: the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center and the Golden State Annex. Both are operated by the private prison and contracting company GEO Group...

...Martinez told Al Jazeera...that he was pushed to protest by the harrowing conditions and bevy of fees that make life untenable inside the facilities, especially when paired with what he calls “slavery wages” of $1 a day.

“The rotten food, the high commissary prices, the long waits for medical treatment — we got tired of it and decided we were going to raise our voice,” Martinez said. “Most of us believe this is our last chance to demand dignity and respect.”...

The hunger strike began on February 16 with more than 80 participants, some of whom dropped out as their bodies started to falter. But the former participants noted they remain in solidarity with their fellow strikers.

While Martinez said low wages, poor conditions and the high cost of things like phone calls fuelled the decision to launch a hunger strike, the protesters ultimately have one goal: release from the facilities...

In a complaint filed on February 23, civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Asian Law Caucus (ALC), stated that GEO Group has punished protest participants with restricted access to recreation and visitation, excessively invasive pat-downs and time in solitary confinement...

Martinez also accused staff at Golden State Annex of mocking hunger strikers, calling some of them overweight and suggesting they would benefit from the lack of food.

...GEO Group said the claims were “baseless allegations, which are part of a longstanding radical campaign to attack ICE’s contractors” and that it had a “zero-tolerance policy with respect to staff misconduct”.

At ICE facilities like Golden State Annex and Mesa Verde, work programmes, which ICE says are voluntary, pay detained people $1 per day for tasks like sanitation, laundry duty and maintenance.

Martinez told Al Jazeera that such wages feel like “legalised slavery”...

Andrew Free, a former immigration lawyer who worked on previous cases against GEO Group, told Al Jazeera that an “atmosphere of deprivation” is common in the company’s facilities, creating conditions where detainees feel pressured to work.

“If your daily meals don’t have enough nutrition or are of very poor quality, you have to buy food from the commissary to have a full diet,” he said. “The choice to work for $1 a day or face deprivation of basic necessities is not truly voluntary.”...