Fault Lines
20 August 2017
ice slaves

Colorado’s Immigration Inmates Are Worked Like Slaves

There was a friend of mine on murder
And the judge’s gavel fell
Jury found him guilty
Gave him sixteen years in hell
He said “I ain’t spending my life here
I ain’t living alone
Ain’t breaking no rocks on the chain gang
I’m breakin’ out and headin’ home

 AC/DC, Jailbreak, on Jailbreak (Atlantic Records 1984)

March 9, 2017 (Fault Lines) – Those are the immortal lines that were wailed by AC/DC’s late, but always incorrigible Bon Scott in that 1984 AC/DC classic. It’s the quintessential convict’s lament about the travail that is prison labor, a complaint that cuts across musical genres. Yet, today’s inmates are still regarded as and treated like slaves by the corporations that run most American prisons, working bad jobs for even worse pay.

But it gets worse, much, much worse for America’s immigration detainees. How so, you ask? Well, for starters, many of them are detained, meaning that either (a) they’re pending trial an individual hearing before an immigration judge; or (b) they’ve already paid their debt to society served their criminal sentence and are in immigration custody waiting to be sent back to their native country. Granted, they’re not breaking rocks for a chain gang, but rather cleaning toilets and the such. But forced labor is still forced labor.

It means that under option (a) they’re doing time before they’ve been found to be deportable, or (b) they’re serving a non-sentence that’s been gratuitously tacked on top of their original criminal sentence, well after “the jury found [t]hem guilty . . . and the judge’s gavel fell.” Either way, it’s extra time on taxpayer dime.

And according to a class action lawsuit filed by thousands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement inmates in Colorado, these inmates are being paid between $1 and nada for a hard day’s work. From The Washington Post:

The original nine plaintiffs claim that detainees at the ICE facility are forced to work without pay — and that those who refuse to do so are threatened with solitary confinement.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims, six detainees are selected at random every day and are forced to clean the facility’s housing units. The lawsuit claims that the practice violates the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits modern-day slavery.

“Forced labor is a particular violation of the statute that we’ve alleged,” Free said. “Whether you’re calling it forced labor or slavery, the practical reality for the plaintiffs is much the same. You’re being compelled to work against your will under the threat of force or use of force.”

So the crap pay is not the worst of it, since those who refuse to comply with the prison screws’ demand for their labor do so on pain of torture that is solitary confinement. On your not-so-humble servant’s information and belief experience with representing immigration clients, those detainees are kept in large cells, with 20-30 inmates housed together. So the image of the prison guard showing up to a cell, going “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” whilst picking the slaves du jour to clean the toilets, and holding the proverbial bludgeon of solitary confinement to back up her threats, is pretty sobering.

And for those of you who think these plaintiffs are getting their just desserts for being in the can, please remind yourselves of this: thousands of these inmates are in an ICE(d) cage without having being found deportable or guilty of any criminal charges. They’re being — sometimes literally, should they refuse to work — kept on ice while the government gets around to shipping them back abroad.

As for the lawsuit, part of ICE’s rejoinder is that “their” detainees are doing this work of their own volition, that all of this is voluntary.  ICE has a “Voluntary Work Program” Policy, and it uses the usual turgid government prose to state that the program:

provides detainees opportunities to work and earn money while confined, subject to the number of work opportunities available and within the constraints of the safety, security and good order of the facility.

But if the Plaintiffs can show that ICE is punishing inmates who refuse to take on such crappy (no pun) endeavors, that “all of this is voluntary” defense is shot down in flames. ICE, however, has another defense up its sleeve, in that detainees are not entitled to the protections of minimum wage laws or anti-trafficking protections:

“Detainees are not whom the minimum wage laws were intended to protect. The minimum wage law was enacted in Colorado to ensure wages are adequate to ‘supply the necessary cost of living and to maintain the health of workers so employed,’” the attorneys argued, quoting the state statute.

The company further argued that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is inapplicable because the law is meant to prevent human trafficking of people for labor and/or sex. GEO Group, the attorneys wrote, “did not traffic Plaintiffs in the Aurora facility with the purpose of putting them to work.” They added that the detainees are in the custody of immigration officials.

U.S. District Judge John Kane ruled that the complaint can go forward as a class-action lawsuit, which means that up to 60 thousand ICE current/former detainees at the Denver facility can join the class.  This will not only jack up the potential damages, but hopefully serve as a deterrent (no pun, again) for ICE.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbids slavery, has an exception that servitude may be compelled when it is part of the “punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”  And that’s where it goes back to the original point for these detainees: most of them have not been convicted of a damn thing.

3 Comments on this post.

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  • Dana Rea
    9 March 2017 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    And you will never hear complaints about these detainees stealing American jobs.

    • Mario Machado
      9 March 2017 at 1:43 pm - Reply

      If you’re not being sarcastic, I’ll tell you that your comment has absolutely nothing to do with the post.

  • Fault Lines Friday Fail
    10 March 2017 at 11:08 am - Reply

    […] 4. Slavery still exists in Colorado, and the slaves are immigration detainees. […]