Humpday Hall of Shame: Public and private detention facilities using cheap detainee labor

This week’s Humpday Hall of Shame spotlight turns to the practice of using immigrant detainees for cheap — and sometimes free — labor in public and private immigrant detention facilities.

The practice was recently highlighted in a New York Times article where author, Ian Urbina,  writes:

As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities.

While the government insists on implementing an arbitrary quota on the number of people to force into detention centers, it has difficulty sustaining its own operations without this source of forced labor. The practice of strong-arming these men and women into the upkeep of the very institutions that deprive them of their basic liberties underlines the larger injustice of mass immigrant detention.

Yet, this method of running detention centers persists. According to the article, last year roughly 60,000 immigrants worked under these conditions, saving the government and private prison companies upwards of $40 million. But, this norm in immigrant detention has not come without criticism and action from those it affects. Earlier this year a large group of detainees initiated a hunger strike in a Tacoma, Washington detention facility run by the private prison company, GEO Group. Among the strikers’ demands was better pay for the work they did within the facility. These men went on to inspire a hunger strike in another facility run by GEO Group in Texas with similar conditions.

The strikes made national news and called attention to that fact that as maddening and outrageous as using detainees as a cheap labor force is, it is only one element of the absurdity of locking people up and ripping apart families for the “crime” of immigration.