Oh, the karma. Just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama administration order barring the use of private prisons, U.S. District Court of Colorado Judge John Kane granted class certification to a lawsuit that will affect about 62,000 immigrants detained at GEO Group’s private prison in Aurora, CO, over the past decade. That prison is contracted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and plaintiffs say they were forced into labor or threatened with solitary confinement, among other allegations reported by ABC’s Channel 7 in Denver.
In the Feb. 27 ruling, which responds to a $5 million lawsuit by nine former detainees held at the prison while awaiting immigration proceedings, Judge Kane found reasonable cause to move the lawsuit forward and open it up to class status. Kane said there was sufficient evidence to suspect GEO—one of the country’s largest private prison corporations and a large donor to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump—had violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s forced labor provision and unjustly enriched itself from immigrants’ work at the prison.
Representatives take issue with two aspects of GEO’s operation of the Aurora Detention Facility. First, they allege that, in carrying out its Housing Unit Sanitation Policy, GEO violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act [TVPA] by requiring detainees to clean the private and common areas of the Facility without any compensation and under the threat of solitary confinement and other punishments. Second, they claim that GEO was unjustly enriched by paying detainees who participated in its Voluntary Work Program (VWP) only $1 per day.
That means that according to the judge, GEO could have exposed potentially tens of thousands of immigrants to forced labor conditions in order to enrich the corporation. The TVPA’s forced labor provision states that it is unlawful for anyone to:
Knowingly provide or obtain the labor or services of a person … by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats, of physical restraint to that person or another person; by means of serious harm or threats of serious harm to that person or another person; by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process; or by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint.
GEO Group Vice President for Corporate Relations Pablo Paez denied the allegations, Channel 7 reported.
“These immigrants came here to work to make a better life for themselves and their families,” Brandt Milstein, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the Los Angeles Times. “Then, when they’re caught doing so and detained, they’re told it was unlawful to work in this country. Then they’re forced to work for nothing in order to pad the profits of a private prison company.”
The class-action ruling by Kane, a senior judge in the U.S. District Court in Colorado, came at a critical time, [Towards Justice Executive Director Nina] DiSalvo said, noting President Trump’s pledge to deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants. Advocates say private prison companies that have government contracts stand to benefit significantly from the president’s hard-line policy of detaining and deporting a massive number of immigrants.