Immigrant detainees in ICE custodyImmigrant detainees have requested summary judgement for their class action lawsuit alleging that private prison company GEO Group violated Washington state law by paying immigrant detainees only $1 per day to perform work while they were detained.

The workers seek a summary judgement determining that GEO violated the Washington Minimum Wage Act, and dismissing GEO’s arguments to the contrary.

According to the immigrant detainees, GEO Group claimed that the immigrant workers detained and working at the Northwest Detention Center are not “employees” and therefore do not quality for the state’s minimum wage requirement of a wage of $13.50 per hour.

The GEO Group had reportedly argued that the immigrant detainees are not employees because they do not have work authorizations.

However, the plaintiffs claim that the immigrants detainees should be considered employees, noting that the workers perform many functions essential to the operations of the Northwest Detention Center.

The immigrant detainees say that GEO Group gains financial benefits from having the detainees perform work in the facility, as the company has to pay non-detainees a much higher rate to perform the same work.

According to the workers, GEO Group argues that its contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requires the company to pay its workers a dollar per day for their work. However, the workers stress that this dollar per day rate is a minimum, not a maximum, as the company is allegedly treating it. According to the workers, the company could pay workers the state minimum wage of $13.50 per hour but chooses not to.

The detainees explain that the original contract set in 2008 dictated that detainees be paid “$1.00 per day.” However, in 2011, ICE reportedly revised the contract to instruct GEO to pay workers “at least $1.00 per day.” Allegedly, the 2019 contract retains the “at least $1.00 per day” instruction.

The workers go on to assert that the ICE contract gives GEO the “discretion to pay detainee workers more than $1 per day and directs GEO to company with all applicable state laws, including the [Washington minimum wage].” Based on this, the workers argue that GEO is in violation of both state law and its contract with ICE.

The GEO Group immigrant detainees class action lawsuit has gone through several iterations — it originally was several separate detainee work class action lawsuits that were combined into one.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan made the decision to combine the GEO Washington wage law violation class action lawsuits in May 2019, saying that the claims were similar enough to be combined. The judge denied that combining the claims would prevent “inconsistent results” in litigating the issue.

Have you been forced to perform work while detained? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

The immigrant detainees are represented by Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, the Law Office of R. Andrew Free, Open Sky Law PLLC, and Menter Immigration Law PLLC.

The GEO Group Immigrant Detainee Wages Class Action Lawsuit is Nwauzor, et al. v. The GEO Group Inc., Case No. 3:17-cv-05769, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

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