Sunday, May 25, 2014

New York Times Story on ICE Detention Center Slave Wages

photo Ramin Rahimian, for the New York Times


Check out the New York Times article by Ian Urbina, "Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor." 

If you want to read more about the program's legality and history, here's the working paper I posted last week on the Social Science Research Network, "One Dollar Per Day: The Slaving Wages of Immigration Jail Work Programs - A History and Legal Analysis, from 1943 to Present."   (posted May 15, 2014, 160 pages).  

From the abstract:
This Paper evaluates the legality of the $1 per day payments for work performed by those in custody under immigration laws as well as its genesis. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an order moving the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) out of the Department of Labor and into the Justice Department. During this same time frame, the U.S. Government established internment camps for "enemy aliens," i.e., civilians in the United States and other countries in Latin America who were or were imagined to be citizens of Axis powers. In 1943, the Justice Department paid those so held 80 cents per day for their work performed in the camps; the average daily cost of each person's detention in 1943 was one dollar. This was the origins of the 1950 law authorizing paying those in custody under immigration laws for work performed. If those in immigration custody today were paid at the ratio from 1943, they would be earning about $80 per day. This paper draws on government documents and contracts obtained under the Freedom of Information Act as well as the program's implementation and history as the basis for a statutory analysis of the Government's defense of its legality. The Paper argues that under a reading of the relevant laws' plain meaning, legislative history, and purpose, the program appears to violate various labor laws and the Fifth, Sixth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.
For entire paper, please go here.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Port Isabel Detention Facility Overcrowded, ICE Vows to Continue Violating Prison Standards, Only 10% Have Convictions


Recent contract documents reveal the Texas Port Isabel Detention Center is subjecting the average 1115 people it locks up each night to overcrowding, and that 90 per cent of them have no criminal records.

On February 11 and 12, 2014 representatives from several private prison firms visited the Port Isabel Facility.  Then they submitted questions, to assist in them preparing bids.   You can read the Q and A here.

The contractor question published here does not mention the precise level of overcrowding but it appears to be a) systemic; and b) of no concern to ICE.

This is important not only because of the inherent problem of subjecting those in civil detention to conditions deemed impermissible for criminal punishment, and not only because of ICE indifference to this.  This is the answer ICE gives to private prison firms, authorizing their violations but it is not the answer ICE gives Congress and the American public.  By ICE insisting that its facilities meet the American Correction Association standards for criminal inmates, for instance, in its Annual Performance Reports to Congress (see U.S. Department of Homeland Security Annual Performance Report for Fiscal Years (FY) 2012 – 2014) ICE is just lying. And when ICE tells the contractors that the agency has no intention of following the ACA standards for bed space, it is sending a signal that the agency may condone violations as well.

 If ICE can't be trusted to adhere to basic quantifiable standards such as bed occupancy, and to accurately represent their non-compliance in their communications with Congress, including their budget proposals, this is further evidence of the need for ending detention under immigration laws altogether.

The demonstrable problem is too many beds, but absent their actual use there would appear to be no reason for ICE's commitment to the noncompliant infrastructure. Moreover, ICE can't credibly tout its adherence to ACA standards and then slough off those that it deems superfluous.

On the one side of the practice are the harms being committed every day by the government, including false imprisonment of U.S citizens and their banishment, as well as corrosion of the rule of law.  On the other side, well, immigrants, economists, and human rights professionals agree there is no upside to this.

Also, of interest is that 90% of those held at the Port Isabel facility have no criminal history whatsoever.



Definitions (from ICE Statistics):  "Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 offenders. Level 1 offenders are those aliens convicted of "aggravated felonies," as defined in § 101(a)(43) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, or two or more crimes each punishable by more than one year, commonly referred to as "felonies." Level 2 offenders are aliens convicted of any other felony or three or more crimes each punishable by less than one year, commonly referred to as "misdemeanors." Level 3 offenders are aliens convicted of "misdemeanor" crime(s) punishable by less than one year. Prior to FY 2011, ICE used SC levels 1, 2, and 3 for prioritization purposes."



Wednesday, May 7, 2014

DHS and Private Prisons Refuse to Release Records on Dollar Per Day Wages Paid to ICE Residents, FOIA Lawsuit Filed





The last year I've been conducting research on the legality of ICE contracts authorizing private prisons to meet performance goals by paying one dollar per day to the people they're locking up.  ICE is not forthcoming about the program and it has not responded to my FOIA requests submitted in the summer and fall of 2013.  

Current insights into the program are possible because a couple years ago I received a partial response to a FOIA request documenting ICE and private prison firms paying those in ICE custody one dollar per day.  In the wake of that release, reporters have followed up.  In fact, there have been intermittent reports on this since 2009, when journalist Susan Caroll described the program in an article in the Houston Chronicle.  

The government says the program is legal, but the scope and profits made by the private prison firms go well beyond the program's official description and are shocking. For instance, the 2012 Krome Facility Request for Proposals lists shifts for "detainee workers" alongside those paid prevailing local wages under the Service Contract Act.  The labor is a crucial part of running these detention centers.  


Note that there are 10 "detainee workers" per breakfast, lunch and dinner, for a total of 30 workers each day, but only eight legally paid employees assigned to the breakfast shift, and just six for lunch.  AKAL Security, which runs, Krome, relies exclusively on its resident labor force to serve dinner. In other words, most of its food service is performed by the folks it has locked up; whereas it is paying the outside workers $30 for a couple hours of work, it is paying 30 people for three shifts just $30 total.

This is arguably legal for criminal prisoners.  But the U.S. citizens and other residents ICE locks up are in civil detention and not  for punishment or rehabilitation.  There is a law that authorizes the government paying for this work, 8 USC 1555 (d); it comes out of the World War Two internment camps for civilian "enemy aliens" and prisoners of war .  If ICE paid people today at the same level it was paying those locked up in World War Two, the payments would be around $80 per day.  (INS was paying people 80 cents a day; the average daily cost in 1943 of detaining each person?  One dollar a day.)

Congress has outlawed hiring non-citizens to pick tomatoes for minimum wage.  Meanwhile, private prisons are reaping enormous profits by hiring at slaving wages residents, some U.S. citizens, most undocumented, for staffing facilities under contract to the federal government.  Providing super profits to a select sector, the program is artificially sustaining the private prison industry and their lobbyists, and thus also distorting federal immigration policy.

The only legal footing ICE has for the program is an ad hoc decision by a federal district court judge in 1990 that was copied and pasted into a Fifth Circuit opinion, Alvarado Guevara v. INS , 902 F.2d 395 (5th Cir., 1990).

Here's the complaint drafted by Attorney Andrew Free.  It includes a succinct description of the program's history and documents areas of concern.  I will release the working paper shortly.
 
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