USA: Private prison co. CoreCivic to face lawsuits alleging use of forced labour of immigrants at detention centre

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4 March 2020

Judgment in Barrientos, Velasquez-Galicia, Ahmed v. CoreCivic Inc.

Author: The United States Court of Appeals

In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit BARRIENTOS, VELAZQUEZ-GALICIA, AHMED v CORECIVIC, INC., 28 Feb 2020

"In this case, Appellees Wilhen Hill Barrientos, Margarito Velazquez-Galicia, and Shoaib Ahmed, current and former alien detainees, brought a class action lawsuit against Appellant CoreCivic, Inc., a private contractor, which owns and operates the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia (“Stewart”). Stewart is a federal immigration detention facility where aliens are held during the pendency of removal proceedings or for other reasons related to enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws. At Stewart, CoreCivic, as a private contractor, is required to operate what is referred to as a “voluntary work program,” through which detainees may perform work for compensation...

Appellees’ complaint alleged that, far from operating a “voluntary” work program, CoreCivic coerces alien detainees to perform labor at Stewart by, inter alia, the use or threatened use of serious harm, criminal prosecution, solitary confinement, and the withholding of basic necessities. Appellees’ complaint asserted that CoreCivic’s labor scheme violated, and continues to violate, the forced-labor prohibition in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589, 1594–95, and Georgia law... 


After review, and with the benefit of oral argument, we conclude that:
(1) under the plain language of the statute, the TVPA covers the conduct of private contractors operating federal immigration detention facilities; (2) the TVPA does not bar private contractors from operating the sort of voluntary work programs generally authorized under federal law for aliens held in immigration detention facilities; but (3) private contractors that operate such work programs are not categorically excluded from the TVPA and may be liable if they knowingly obtain or procure the labor or services of a program participant through the illegal coercive means explicitly listed in the TVPA. Because our review is limited to the legal question of the TVPA’s applicability to private contractors operating federal immigration detention facilities, we do not at this time address whether the factual allegations in the complaint are sufficient to state a TVPA claim."...

In summary, this is a step forward in the chase for corporate accountability in the US; the 11th Circuit held that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act does apply to federal contractors operating federal detention facilities i.e. private, company owned prisons as opposed to government run prisons.

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26 November 2018

USA: CoreCivic & Geo Group face lawsuit over using detainee labour at New Mexico immigration detention facility

Author: Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian

"Private prison companies served with lawsuits over using detainee labor", 25 Nov 2018

When a New Mexico immigration detention facility needed people to cook for inmates and clean its halls, it found a solution already inside its walls.  For $0.50 or less per hour, detainees such as Mbah Emmanuel Abi and Desmond Ndambi, who have since been granted political asylum, cooked meals for their fellow inmates and worked in the facility library...The practice has been compared to slave labor and has brought a pile of lawsuits to the doorsteps of the country’s two biggest private prison companies, CoreCivic and Geo Group...

In a recently filed class-action lawsuit, Abi, Ndambi and one other man who fled Cameroon in 2017, brought wage theft claims against CoreCivic’s Cibola county correctional center in New Mexico.  Both CoreCivic and Geo Group have said the pay is compliant with a voluntary work program mandated by the government, but attorneys said the labor is not voluntary because it is needed to pay for items such as toothpaste or to make phone calls to loved ones...The New Mexico case was filed in a federal court in Maryland last week and centers on CoreCivic’s alleged violation of minimum wage laws...

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27 August 2018

Immigration detainees cite ‘deplorable conditions’ inside Stewart facility in lawsuit

Author: Chuck Williams, Ledger Enquirer (USA)

Immigration detainees being held in the Stewart Detention Center in south Georgia have a filed a federal lawsuit against the for-profit company that operates the 2,000-bed facility, citing “deplorable conditions” inside the prison.  The case survived its first significant legal hurdle when U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land recently denied a motion by CoreCivic Inc., the company that operates the prison, to dismiss the suit.  Plaintiffs...brought the federal class-action lawsuit against CoreCivic Inc., which operates the 2,000-bed facility in Stewart County.  The suit was brought under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the plaintiffs allege that CoreCivic operates a “deprivation scheme” in which it forces detainees to work through threats of physical violence, solitary confinement and deprivation of basic necessities...

The claims include: the bathrooms are in poor condition; some showers have no hot water...; the open dormitories house 66 people in bunk beds with no privacy...Conflict and violence occur frequently in the open dormitories, which the detainees refer to as the “Chicken Coop” because of the unsanitary conditions and overcrowding, the suit alleges...[A]ccording to the plaintiffs’ suit, there is a way out of the “Chicken Coop” and that entails working for CoreCivic in jobs that help operate the prison...One way to get money in the inmate fund is to participate in the prison’s “Voluntary Work Program.”  The jobs include scrubbing bathrooms, cleaning the medical center, preparing meals, washing detainees’ laundry and cleaning floors.  CoreCivic generally pays detainees in the program between $1 and $4 per day...

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15 June 2018

Fact Sheet: Human Trafficking & Forced Labor in For-Profit Detention Facilities

Author: Alexandra F. Levy, The Human Trafficking Legal Center

"Fact Sheet: Human Trafficking & Forced Labor in For-Profit Detention Facilities. Strategic Litigation in U.S. Federal Courts", 2018

...In the past four years, civil attorneys have filed cutting-edge federal trafficking cases against individuals and entities associated with the U.S. penal system. At least 17 civil cases include allegations that private prison corporations, municipalities, and detention facilities (among others) have violated federal anti-trafficking, involuntary servitude, and forced labor laws.  Six of these cases involve claims of abuse committed by private corporations against civil immigration detainees. An additional six cases charge that municipalities and other officials conspired to create a system of debt servitude...This factsheet analyzes this litigation, drawing lessons from both ongoing and resolved cases...Plaintiffs subjected to involuntary servitude or forced labor as a consequence of criminal convictions face significant barriers to successful litigation under the TVPRA [Trafficking Victims Protection Act]. However, prisons and other post-conviction facilities do not have carte-blanche to abuse inmates and exploit their labor.  Several ongoing cases...are testing the extent to which the TVPRA can serve as a bulwark against abuse in all detention facilities...Civil lawsuits brought by indigent people detained in debtors’ prisons and forced to work off their debts have already resulted in widespread reforms.  Claims filed by civil immigration detainees have challenged corporations for their otherwise largely-unchecked treatment of detainees.  And “diversion programs” alleged to fraudulently obtain forced labor are now before the courts...

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21 May 2018

USA: Judge allows lawsuit against CoreCivic over alleged forced labour in immigration detention centre to proceed

Author: Kate Morrissey, San Diego Union Tribune (USA)

"Judge allows case over alleged forced labor in immigration detention to move forward", 17 May 2018

Two former immigration detainees will be allowed to bring a class action lawsuit against CoreCivic, the private prison company that owns and operates Otay Mesa Detention Center, for alleged labor violations, a federal judge ruled Monday.  The complaint alleges that CoreCivic violated federal forced labor laws by making detainees clean and maintain the facilities for no pay and threatening them with punishments like solitary confinement if they didn’t comply.  It also alleges that in paying detainees $1 per day for a variety of jobs within the facility like doing laundry, preparing meals or cutting hair in the facility’s barber shop, CoreCivic violated wage laws.  Detainees were only allowed to spend that pay at the commissary operated by CoreCivic, the complaint says.  The complaint argues that through all of this, CoreCivic was unjustly enriched off of the labor of its detainees...Amanda Sluss Gilchrist, spokeswoman for Corecivic, said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation...Judge Janis Sammartino placed a couple of limitations on the lawsuit.  The complaint said that CoreCivic’s alleged conduct has been going on since at least 2004 and suggested that date as the cut-off for defining the class involved. Sammartino said the detainees’ cut-off date for some of their claims would be 2008 because of legislative changes around that time that amended the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law they are using to bring the case...

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17 April 2018

Immigrants’ Lawsuit Accuses Private Prison Contractor Of Forced Labor

Author: Roque Planas and Elise Foley, Huffington Post (USA)

A class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in Georgia accuses the country’s largest private prison contractor of forcing detained immigrants to work for between $1 and $8 dollars per day, in violation of the federal minimum wage law.  The civil lawsuit, filed in federal court on behalf of three immigrants detained at CoreCivic’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, says that those who decline to participate in the voluntary work scheme face threats of retaliation, including criminal prosecution.  The lawsuit was jointly filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Project South and the law offices of Andrew Free and Burns Charest...The lawsuit marks the latest attempt to challenge the legality of obliging immigrants to work while detained for wages that fall well below the federal minimum wage...Obliging detainees to work for such low wages subsidizes CoreCivic, which should either pay minimum wage or look to the local labor market for employees if detainees refuse to work, the lawsuit adds...CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns said that the company does not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy.  He added that “all work programs at our ICE detention facilities are completely voluntary and operated in full compliance with ICE standards, including federally mandated statutory reimbursement rates for Voluntary Work Program participants.”...Detainees at CoreCivi’s remote detention center commonly work in the kitchen or carry out cleaning or custodial work, for which they earn approximately $1 per hour...

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17 April 2018

SPLC sues private prison company that uses forced labor of detained immigrants in Georgia to boost profits

Author: Southern Poverty Laws Cente (USA)

CoreCivic, Inc., a private prison company under contract with Stewart County, Georgia, to house individuals detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is forcing detained immigrants to work for as little as $1 a day to clean, cook, and maintain the detention center in a scheme to maximize profits, according to a class-action lawsuit the SPLC filed against the company today.  Detained immigrants at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia who refuse to work are threatened with solitary confinement and the loss of access to basic violation of federal anti-trafficking laws, according to the lawsuit.  Similar lawsuits have been filed in California, Washington, Colorado and Texas...The “Dollar-a-Day” program creates a lucrative profit scenario for CoreCivic: Detained immigrants are forced to purchase basic necessities from CoreCivic’s commissary, and the primary way to fund their purchases is to participate in the work program that is necessary for the operation of the facility...

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4 January 2018

USA: Immigrants file lawsuit alleging labor exploitation by CoreCivic, a firm operating a detention center

Author: San Diego Union Tribunes

“Class-action lawsuit alleges immigrants are forced to labor in detention”, 30 December 2017

Immigrants in detention in San Diego are suing a private prison company, alleging exploitation and forced labor that their attorneys say breaks human trafficking laws. The class-action lawsuit…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 … It further alleges that the facility doesn’t provide all of the basic necessities that detainees need for daily life… which means they have to work in order to buy those items at the commissary…facility staff threatened to put detainees in solitary confinement or take away visitation rights if they said they didn’t want to work. CoreCivic, the company that contracts with the government to operate the facility, said that it does not comment on pending litigation and has not yet been served with the lawsuit… 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…


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