Representatives Jayapal and Smith Call for Reforms to Deeply Flawed Immigration Detention System

October 16, 2017
Press Release

SEATTLE – Today, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09) convened local stakeholders in support of the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act to dramatically reform the injustices in our current immigration detention system. At present, the detention system is driven by private, for-profit corporations that benefit from increased detention efforts, like the GEO Group which operates the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. This bill moves to end the use of private facilities; repeal mandatory detention; and restore due process, oversight, accountability and transparency to the immigration detention system.

“We must fix the injustices in our broken immigration detention system,” said Congressman Adam Smith. “As the Trump administration continues to push a misguided and dangerous immigration agenda, we need to ensure fair treatment and due process for immigrants and refugees faced with detention. This legislation will address some of the worst failings of our immigration policy, and restore integrity and humanity to immigration proceedings.”

“The high moral cost of our inhumane immigration detention system is reprehensible. Large, private corporations operating detention centers are profiting off the suffering of men, women and children. We need an overhaul,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “It’s clear that the Trump administration is dismantling the few protections in place for detained immigrants even as he ramps up enforcement against parents and vulnerable populations. This bill addresses the most egregious problems with our immigration detention system. It’s Congress’ responsibility to step up and pass this bill.”

In addition to repealing mandatory detention, a policy that often results in arbitrary and indefinite detention, the legislation creates a meaningful inspection process at detention facilities to ensure they meet the government’s own standards. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish legally enforceable civil detention standards in line with those adopted by the American Bar Association. With disturbing track records of abuse and neglect,  DHS has a responsibility to ensure that facilities are held accountable for the humane treatment of those awaiting immigration proceedings.

Individuals held in our immigration detention system are subject to civil law, but are often held in conditions identical to prisons. In many cases, detained people are simply awaiting their day in court. To correct the persistent failures of due process, the legislation requires the government to show probable cause to detain people, and implements a special rule for primary caregivers and vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and people with serious medical and mental health issues.

“The immigrant detention and prison industrial complex breaks down the mental, emotional, and psychosocial development of our communities in various ways. I saw this firsthand when my family member was detained. I believe the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act provides transformative provisions that we have been working toward, to move the immigrant rights movement forward,” said Yvette Maganya, a OneAmerica youth leader and the niece of a survivor of the Northwest Detention Center. “I’ve seen the toll detention conditions have in our community. Our communities are being jailed in inhumane conditions with no accountability. Often they are jailed not because of what they did, but to fulfill cruel, arbitrary quotas. It is wrong to jail immigrants indefinitely with no accountability or oversight. This is why we need the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act.”

“We are grateful for the leadership of Representatives Smith and Jayapal in ensuring that the rights and dignity of all peoples are respected.  NWIRP supports the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2017 that they have introduced and see it as a critical step toward making our immigration detention system more humane and more consistent with fundamental American values,” said Jorge L. Barón of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

“The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act is a crucial piece of legislation that introduces a wave of accountability that we desperately need. This officially puts the federal government on notice that we will no longer tolerate the rampant disregard for human life,” said Victoria Mena of Colectiva Legal del Pueblo.

“Today, we’re facing an extremist expansion of our immigration detention system, which makes the Dignity for Detained Immigrants bill even more imperative. We have continually seen the ways in which conditions in the detention center and the traumatic experience of being detained deters people from fighting their cases. We stand in strong support of this important piece of legislation that sets a new, humane vision to reform our flawed immigration detention system,” said Roxana Norouzi of immigrant rights organization OneAmerica.

The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act is cosponsored by 60 members of Congress: John Conyers Jr. (MI-13), John Lewis (GA-5), Louise Slaughter (NY-25), Jose Serrano (NY-15), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-4), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Bobby Rush (IL-1), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-7), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Elijah E. Cummings (MD-7), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Danny K. Davis (IL-7), James P. McGovern (MA-2), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Betty McCollum (MN-4), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3), Gwen Moore (WI-4), Steve Cohen (TN-9), Keith Ellison (MN-5), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. (GA-4), André Carson (IN-7), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Jared Polis (CO-2), Mike Quigley (IL-5), Judy Chu (CA-27), Ted Deutch (FL-22), Bill Foster (IL-11), David N. Cicilline (RI-1), Suzan DelBene (WA-1), Donald M. Payne Jr. (NJ-10), Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-4), Mark Pocan (WI-2), Mark Takano (CA-41), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Katherine Clark (MA-5), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Ruben Gallego (AZ-7), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Kathleen M. Rice (NY-4), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Dwight Evans (PA-2), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), Jamie Raskin (MD-8), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34).

The legislation is also supported by 52 civil society organizations: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Center for Community Change, The Center for Victims of Torture, Church Council of Greater Seattle, Church World Service, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, Columbia Legal Services, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Democracy for America, Detention Watch Network, Entre Hermanos, FIRM, Grassroots Leadership, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Indivisible Vashon, Just Detention International, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Make the Road CT, Make the Road New York, Make the Road NJ, MoveOn.org Civic Action, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Center for Transgender Equality, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Law Center, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, OneAmerica, Our Revolution, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Southern Poverty Law Center, Tacoma Migrant Justice, Tahirih Justice Center, United We Dream, Wallingford Indivisible, Washington Community Action Network, Washington Defender Association, The Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, Women’s Refugee Commission, 21 Progress, Asian Counseling and Referral Service.

Take the profit out of immigration jails, say WA congress members

A detainee in solitary at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. KUOW PHOTO/MEGAN FARMER

Immigration detention is a booming business in the U.S., mostly run by private, for-profit contractors. A new bill in Congress aims to phase out these private facilities, including the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

“One thing I am 100 percent confident of is that there is a cheaper, more humane way to treat the undocumented population in our country,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington).

On Tuesday, Smith and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) plan to introduce legislation that calls for an overhaul of the immigration detention system.

Currently, 90 percent of federal detention is outsourced to private contractors or local jails and the regulations vary from place to place.

“There’s no accountability,” Jayapal said. “There’s no transparency. And people are literally making a profit off of people being put into detention. I think it’s important for the public to understand that it’s costing them a lot of money when there are a lot of alternatives.”

The legislation calls for the Department of Homeland Security to take over ownership and operation of all detention facilities within three years.

The bill, called the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, would also create higher standards at detention centers – standards for medical care, legal services, and basic living conditions, among other things.

A recent series of detainee hunger strikes have called attention to these issues at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma and at other immigration jails around the country.

More than 350,000 people were held in detention last year, and the 2018 federal budget projects a 70 percent increase.

“The bottom line concern is that detention facilities are not regulated by the federal government in the same way that federal prisons are,” Smith said.

Former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelley defended the standards while testifying to Congress in May.

“ICE detention standards are well beyond the standards that even the Federal Bureau of Prisons has in terms of prisoner….housing and care,” Kelly said.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson declined to comment on pending legislation, but information on the agency’s website describes an ongoing rollout of new standards to all of its facilities. However, some facilities are still using standards that have not been updated since 2000.

In 2016, a Homeland Security advisory subcommittee reviewed the use of private immigration detention facilities and evaluated whether this practice should be eliminated. The report compared private facilities to those run by ICE and found private facilities are cheaper to run and necessary to meet capacity demands. However, the committee ultimately recommended a shift away from these for-profit jails.

According to the report, the average cost of a day in an ICE-run facility is $184.35 per person versus $144.23 in a privately-contracted detention facility.

Yet Jayapal said the proposed legislation would ultimately lead to cost savings, since it carves out limits on who can be detained and for how long. For example, the bill would create a category of “vulnerable persons,” including pregnant women and primary caregivers, who could qualify for alternative community supervision programs instead of detention.

Smith said he’s not naïve. He knows how Congress works. And he knows it’s a longshot to even get a hearing on this bill, given the Trump Administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

“It’s unlikely, but we’re going to put it in their face,” Smith said. “We’re going to keep pushing this issue because we have people here in this country who are being treated inhumanely.”

AG Ferguson sues operator of the Northwest Detention Center for wage violations

Sept. 20, 2017

AG Ferguson sues operator of the Northwest Detention Center for wage violations
Multi-billion dollar company pays detainees in snacks or $1 per day for labor

TACOMA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced a lawsuit against The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), the second-largest private prison provider in the country, for not paying its workers the minimum wage, netting the company millions in ill-gotten profits. The state’s lawsuit asks the court to order the company to give up these profits.

GEO uses immigration detainee labor to perform virtually all non-security functions at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), the only private detention facility in the state. Since at least 2005, GEO has paid thousands of detainee workers $1 per day or, in some instances, snacks and extra food for labor that is necessary to keep NWDC operational. Washington’s minimum wage is $11 per hour.

“A multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to get away with paying its workers $1 per day,” Ferguson said. “That shouldn’t happen in America, and I will not tolerate it happening in Washington. For-profit companies cannot exploit Washington workers.”

“The bottom line is that a fair wage should be paid for a day of work,” said Joel Sacks, director of the state Department of Labor and Industries, which regulates wage standards in Washington state.

The lawsuit, filed today in Pierce County Superior Court, is believed to be the first of its kind brought by a state Attorney General. The state has two claims against GEO.

First, the lawsuit accuses GEO of violating Washington’s minimum wage laws. These laws are broadly written and meant to protect as many workers as possible. RCW 49.46.010(k) exempts the following from protections from Washington’s minimum wage laws: “Any resident, inmate, or patient of a state, county, or municipal correctional, detention, treatment or rehabilitative institution.”

There are no exceptions for private, for-profit facilities like NWDC. In contrast with a jail or prison, which house people involved in the criminal justice system and are operated by state or local governments, detainees at NWDC are held in a private, for-profit facility pending civil immigration proceedings.

Second, Ferguson also argues that GEO unjustly enriched itself, meaning it profited by its illegal actions exploiting its workers.

NWDC has the capacity to house up to 1,575 immigrant detainees. Detainees perform most of the work necessary to run the facility except guarding detainees. This includes preparing and serving food, running the laundry services, performing facility maintenance, and cleaning common areas and restrooms. Detainees report that the general practice is that guards ask for detainee “volunteers” for work. If no one volunteers for certain work, guards will sometimes pick detainees to perform the work.

AGO investigators heard many stories from detainees about their concerns regarding work at NWDC. Detainees described working through the night buffing floors and painting walls in exchange for chips and candy. Detainees told investigators that if an officer asks a detainee to work on a special project later than the planned end of the shift, detainees are allowed to stop working but may not receive any pay for their work.

Detainees also reported that for some work, GEO does not provide appropriate working gear and that has caused detainees physical pain and discomfort. Detainees’ concerns about being paid $1 per day or being paid in snack food is one of several concerns that detainees raised during multiple hunger strikes in the past year.

Northwest Detention Center and GEO Group
Located on Tacoma’s Tideflats, Northwest Detention Center is the fourth-largest immigration detention center in the country. People are held at the facility while undergoing immigration proceedings, potentially facing deportation.

GEO has operated the facility for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2005. The Florida-based company has been in partnership with ICE since the 1980s, and in 2015, ICE renewed GEO’s contract for NWDC through 2025. At the time the contract was renewed, GEO projected NWDC would bring in $57 million in revenue every year at full capacity.

NWDC is one of 141 correctional and detention facilities operated by the company, which saw revenues exceeding $2 billion in 2016.

GEO has faced a variety of lawsuits, including a class action suit by current and former detainees at a Colorado facility alleging forced labor.

NWDC has faced its own controversies, including multiple hunger strikes by detainees over living conditions, access to medical care, and other problems at the facility. As many as 750 detainees reportedly participated in one hunger strike earlier this year.

Relief and next steps
Ferguson’s lawsuit asks the court to order GEO to comply with Washington’s minimum wage laws. The lawsuit also asks the court to order GEO to pay the state its costs and fees from bringing the lawsuit, and to give up the profits it made by underpaying its employees over many years. The exact amount will be determined as the lawsuit progresses, but is expected to be in the millions.

If the court grants this request, the Attorney General’s Office will likely ask the court to place any monetary award into a constructive trust or cy pres fund. This fund would be dedicated to supporting people detained in NWDC, as well as job seekers in the community surrounding the detention center who may have lost employment opportunities because of GEO’s practices.

The defendant will have 20 days from the date they are served to respond to the state’s complaint.

Assistant Attorneys General La Rond Baker and Marsha Chien are leading the case for the Attorney General’s Office.

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