Photo: Detained immigrants
Undocumented immigrants are not allowed to work legally in the United States, but they can do so for $1 a day in the privately run detention centers where they await deportation, according to a report by Truthout.
Jacqueline Stevens, a professor at Northwestern University who sought figures on the “voluntary” work program through a Freedom of Information Act request, calls the existence of these programs “shameful and ironic” and says that the federal government should immediately close any workplace that operates under those conditions.
“On the one hand, they say we must deport these people because they are taking away the jobs of Americans, but on the other hand the employment of the people who are detained under conditions of near slavery is being subsidized,” she told Efe.
Although Stevens acknowledges that being in prison means that a person loses their right to receive the minimum wage, she warns that the concept should not be applied to immigrants detained awaiting the clarification of the immigration situation.
“People who are being detained only while they await an immigration court audience and not for punitive reasons are being forced to work for a dollar a day and this not only seems to violate the minimum wage laws, but also the 13th Amendment against slavery,” she said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement insists that the Voluntary Work Program, “under conditions of confinement, does not constitute employment and is done by detainees on a voluntary basis for a small stipend.”
Among the immigrant detention centers named by the professor are the El Centro Service Processing Center in El Centro, California; Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia and Varick Detention Center in New York City.
Azadeh Shashahani, the director of the National Security and Immigrant Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia, says that the voluntary work programs expose detainees to possible exploitation.
“These programs add to the exploitation of the detained immigrants who are already in a vulnerable situation,” Shashahani told Efe.
The ACLU official, who on many occasions has denounced the treatment received by undocumented detainees in the detention centers in Georgia, said that these programs are one more way for the corporations who administer the centers to obtain an economic benefit from the detainees.
According to the ACLU report “Prisoners of Profit,” food at the detention centers is inadequate and many of the detainees do not have the means to buy products like chocolates, cookies or telephone cards that are available at the prison store.
In need of money, the detainees find themselves forced to work at a fraction of the minimum wage, the ACLU found.
Shashahani said that the findings of the report show the need for ICE to take the necessary measures to stop the exploitation of detainees.