Former detainees of the Aurora ICE Processing Center in Aurora, Colo. are suing private prison firm GEO Group, alleging they were victims of forced labor. A federal judge in Colorado on Feb. 27 upgraded the lawsuit, which was filed in 2014 by nine former detainees, to a class-action suit increasing the number of plaintiffs from nine to more than 60,000. The lawsuit alleges that immigrants detained at the GEO Group’s private detention center were victims of forced labor in violation with anti-slavery laws. According to The Washington Post, detainees were forced to work for as much as $1 a day. Any who refused the demand were threatened with solitary confinement. The Florida-based private prison company currently holds a contract with ICE.
“That’s obviously a big deal; it’s recognizing the possibility that a government contractor could be engaging in forced labor,” Nina DiSalvo, the executive director of Towards Justice, a Colorado-based nonprofit group told The Washington Post. “Certification of the class is perhaps the only mechanism by which these vulnerable individuals who were dispersed across the country and across the world would ever be able to vindicate their rights.”
Denver7 KMGH-TV reports that the lawsuit started with just nine former detainees of the 1,500-bed facility in Colorado. After the ruling by U.S. District Judge John Kane that the lawsuit is a class-action matter, anyone who was detained by ICE between 2004 and now are automatically added to the lawsuit. This is the first-ever class-action lawsuit to be filed against a for-profit prison firm.
The original lawsuit was seeking $5 million for the nine plaintiffs, but the class-action status added to the lawsuit will increase the amount of money awarded to the victims. The facility in question is reported to have functioned on the work of the detained immigrants since they had only one janitor on staff. GEO Group denies the allegations.
“We have consistently, strongly refuted these allegations, and we intend to continue to vigorously defend our company against these claims,” GEO Group Vice President for Corporate Relations Pablo Paez, told Denver7 in a statement. He added: “The volunteer work program at immigration facilities as well as the wage rates and standards associated with the program are set by the Federal government. Our facilities, including the Aurora, Colo. Facility, are highly rated and provide high-quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments pursuant to the Federal Government’s national standards.”