POGO Report Details String of Lawsuits Alleging Detention Companies Engage in Involuntary Servitude

As Immigration Enforcement Ramps Up, Congress Should Scrutinize ICE’s “Voluntary” Work Program

The labor practices at several immigrant detention centers, mostly run by private prison companies, violate the Constitution’s ban on slavery and minimum wage laws, according to a growing number of federal lawsuits and some experts, as detailed in a new report issued by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) today.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that contracts with these companies and local jails for detention services, has approved a “voluntary work program” where detainees are paid $1 per day, which relies on a rate Congress approved in 1950. However, several detainees have alleged that they were forced to work under threat of solitary confinement, which would violate the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

POGO’s report shows how these companies get billions of dollars from the federal government with the promise to bring jobs and other economic opportunities to surrounding communities, but instead rely on a low-paid detainee labor force.

“The growing number of these lawsuits should attract the attention of Congress and as it examines the Tump administration’s immigration proposals they should also scrutinize the status quo, including ICE’s work program and the use of detention companies,” says Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO. 

While one of the lawsuits detailed in POGO’s report received widespread news coverage earlier this year when it was certified as a class action lawsuit in Colorado, POGO, for the first time, has knitted together the broader picture of these lawsuits and similar allegations. For instance, in one case in 2011, a private prison company confirmed that its guards at a detention facility in Georgia threatened detainees with solitary confinement for not working.

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Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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