A former illegal alien is suing a U.S. government contractor, claiming that the immigration detention facilities it operates in Texas and elsewhere constitute illegal enclaves of slavery that violate anti-human-trafficking laws.
The case is currently before the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Attacking the often private facilities that hold immigration detainees has been part of the left’s strategy to undermine U.S. immigration law enforcement in recent years. To this end, Antifa and other anti-immigration enforcement activists have targeted privately run immigration detention facilities with violence, demonstrations, and lawsuits.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a radical left-wing Democrat from New York, has famously compared immigration detention facilities to concentration camps.
Former immigration detainee Martha Gonzalez, who now holds a temporary U.S. visa, is suing Nashville, Tennessee-based CoreCivic Inc., which until 2016 was known as Corrections Corp. of America, alleging that requiring detainees to clean their own living accommodations and letting them perform low-paying work in the facility violates the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
In her legal complaint, originally filed Feb. 22, 2018, in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas, Gonzalez, who had been detained in facilities run by CoreCivic, asked “for a resounding declaration by this Court that the United States, when it contracted with private companies to detain aliens subject to detention under federal law, established … a nationwide system of illegal slave camps.”
She described CoreCivic in the legal document as a “‘private prison’ company that forces immigration detainees to work in forced labor camps” in Texas and elsewhere “under threat of isolation, retaliation, and other deprivations.”
The company “unlawfully forces, coerces, and uses civil immigration detainees to clean, maintain, and operate their facility. In some instances, CoreCivic pays detainees $1 to $2 per day, and in other instances, detainees aren’t compensated with wages at all for their labor and services.”
Using “forced labor” is “quite lucrative,” her complaint stated. “Replacing paid workers with forced labor results in massive cost savings. CoreCivic uses forced labor rather than hiring workers and paying a proper minimum wage, overtime, and benefits.”
“CoreCivic makes a mockery of the Constitution” and U.S. laws “by maintaining these forced labor camps in violation of the human rights of the individual detainees,” and “profits mightily from the use of these forced labor camps,” it stated.
Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs for CoreCivic, said in a statement:
“As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on active litigation but what I can tell you is all work programs at our [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detention facilities are completely voluntary and operated in full compliance with ICE standards, including federally established minimum wage rates for detainee volunteer labor. Detainees are subject to no disciplinary action whatsoever if they choose not to participate in the work program.
“We set and deliver the same high standard of care—including three daily meals, access to health care, and other everyday living needs—regardless of whether a detainee participates in a voluntary work program. We have worked in close partnership with ICE for more than 30 years and will continue to provide a safe and humane environment to those entrusted to our care.”
Brian Lonergan, director of communications at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm that filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case last month, said Gonzalez’s arguments are “beyond absurd.”
“Alien detainees are free to leave these facilities whenever they want. In many cases, federal law allows criminal aliens to return to their home countries instead of waiting in detention while their immigration claims proceed,” Lonergan wrote in a recent op-ed at Breitbart News.
“The alternative to having detainees clean up their personal space is for taxpayer-funded personal cleaning services to do it, essentially maid service. This is a luxury not enjoyed by anyone else in detention in the U.S.”
Gonzalez’s claim that paying detainees $1 per day for work—a rate determined by Congress—constitutes slave labor doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, Lonergan wrote. “As anyone who has been in the correctional system or even seen it in documentaries can attest, inmates are paid extremely low wages for menial work done in the facility.”
The Epoch Times reached out to Gonzalez’s lawyer, Thomas H. Padgett Jr. of The Buenker Law Firm of Houston.
CoreCivic filed a motion to dismiss the case and lost, Padgett said. “They asked the Court to let them appeal. The Court said yes. So, we are before the Fifth Circuit.”
“I wouldn’t expect an opinion for some time,” he added.