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Immigrant detainees sue over $1 per day wages

In a case that may be of interest to South Carolina residents, nine immigrants who were held in a Denver facility while awaiting deportation proceedings are suing the private company that confined them, claiming they were paid just $1 a day for their labor and threatened with solitary confinement. On July 6, a circuit court judge declined a request from the defendant, GEO Group Inc., to dismiss the federal lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the immigrants were paid $1 per day to sweep and mop floors, scrub toilets, do laundry and prepare and serve meals. The plaintiffs claim that GEO used and abused them as cheap labor to run the detention facility instead of running it themselves.

Florida-based GEO, which is one of the largest federal contractors housing detained immigrants, claims that its facilities "provide high-quality services in safe, secure and residential environments" and that it is abiding by federal guidelines by paying $1 a day for labor. The company was successful in getting the court to dismiss the claim it broke Colorado's minimum wage law of $8.23 per hour. The judge ruled that detainees are not considered employees under applicable Colorado statutes. However, experts said the suit can move forward on claims GEO unjustly profited from the detainees in violation of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This is because, unlike prison inmates who often work below minimum wage, civil immigration detainees are not being held for criminal violations.

Immigration laws can be confusing and time-sensitive. Anyone seeking an employment visa to work in the U.S. may benefit by consulting with a lawyer. After reviewing the details of the case, a lawyer could help file the proper legal documents and assist with any required court hearings.

Source: CBS News, "Lawsuit: Immigrants paid $1 a day for janitorial work at private prison," Associated Press, July 10, 2015

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