[Marxism] The Prison-Industrial Complex
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 25 10:15:39 MDT 2014
The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like
system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of
African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent
second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil
Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book has appeared on
the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year; been dubbed the
“secular bible of a new social movement” by numerous commentators,
including Cornel West; and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in
universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers, and prisons
nationwide. The New Jim Crow tells a truth our nation has been reluctant
NY Times, May 25 2014
Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor
By IAN URBINA
HOUSTON — The kitchen of the detention center here was bustling as a
dozen immigrants boiled beans and grilled hot dogs, preparing lunch for
about 900 other detainees. Elsewhere, guards stood sentry and managers
took head counts, but the detainees were doing most of the work —
mopping bathroom stalls, folding linens, stocking commissary shelves.
As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country
illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of
thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor —
usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are
held when caught by the authorities.
This work program is facing increasing resistance from detainees and
criticism from immigrant advocates. In April, a lawsuit accused
immigration authorities in Tacoma, Wash., of putting detainees in
solitary confinement after they staged a work stoppage and hunger
strike. In Houston, guards pressed other immigrants to cover shifts left
vacant by detainees who refused to work in the kitchen, according to
immigrants interviewed here.
The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a
cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is
truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private
prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the
rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force.
Last year, at least 60,000 immigrants worked in the federal government’s
nationwide patchwork of detention centers — more than worked for any
other single employer in the country, according to data from United
States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The cheap
labor, 13 cents an hour, saves the government and the private companies
$40 million or more a year by allowing them to avoid paying outside
contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some immigrants held at
county jails work for free, or are paid with sodas or candy bars, while
also providing services like meal preparation for other government
Unlike inmates convicted of crimes, who often participate in prison work
programs and forfeit their rights to many wage protections, these
immigrants are civil detainees placed in holding centers, most of them
awaiting hearings to determine their legal status. Roughly half of the
people who appear before immigration courts are ultimately permitted to
stay in the United States — often because they were here legally,
because they made a compelling humanitarian argument to a judge or
because federal authorities decided not to pursue the case.
“I went from making $15 an hour as a chef to $1 a day in the kitchen in
lockup,” said Pedro Guzmán, 34, who had worked for restaurants in
California, Minnesota and North Carolina before he was picked up and
held for about 19 months, mostly at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin,
Ga. “And I was in the country legally.”
Mr. Guzmán said that he had been required to work even when he was
running a fever, that guards had threatened him with solitary
confinement if he was late for his 2 a.m. shift, and that his family had
incurred more than $75,000 in debt from legal fees and lost income
during his detention. A Guatemalan native, he was released in 2011 after
the courts renewed his visa, which had mistakenly been revoked, in part
because of a clerical error. He has since been granted permanent residency.
Claims of Exploitation
Officials at private prison companies declined to speak about their use
of immigrant detainees, except to say that it was legal. Federal
officials said the work helped with morale and discipline and cut
expenses in a detention system that costs more than $2 billion a year.
“The program allows detainees to feel productive and contribute to the
orderly operation of detention facilities,” said Gillian M. Christensen,
a spokeswoman for the immigration agency. Detainees in the program are
not officially employees, she said, and their payments are stipends, not
wages. No one is forced to participate, she added, and there are usually
more volunteers than jobs.
Marian Martins, 49, who was picked up by ICE officers in 2009 for
overstaying her visa and sent to Etowah County Detention Center in
Gadsden, Ala., said work had been her only ticket out of lockdown, where
she was placed when she arrived without ever being told why.
Ms. Martins said she had worked most days cooking meals, scrubbing
showers and buffing hallways. Her only compensation was extra free time
outside or in a recreational room, where she could mingle with other
detainees, watch television or read, she said.
“People fight for that work,” said Ms. Martins, who has no criminal
history. “I was always nervous about being fired, because I needed the
Ms. Martins fled Liberia during the civil war there and entered the
United States on a visitor visa in 1990. She stayed and raised three
children, all of whom are American citizens, including two sons in the
Air Force. Because of her deteriorating health, she was released from
detention in August 2010 with an electronic ankle bracelet while
awaiting a final determination of her legal status.
Natalie Barton, a spokeswoman for the Etowah detention center, declined
to comment on Ms. Martins’s claims but said that all work done on site
by detained immigrants was unpaid, and that the center complied with all
local and federal rules.
The compensation rules at detention facilities are remnants of a bygone
era. A 1950 law created the federal Voluntary Work Program and set the
pay rate at a time when $1 went much further. (The equivalent would be
about $9.80 today.) Congress last reviewed the rate in 1979 and opted
not to raise it. It was later challenged in a lawsuit under the Fair
Labor Standards Act, which sets workplace rules, but in 1990 an
appellate court upheld the rate, saying that “alien detainees are not
government ‘employees.’ ”
Immigrants in holding centers may be in the country illegally, but they
may also be asylum seekers, permanent residents or American citizens
whose documentation is questioned by the authorities. On any given day,
about 5,500 detainees out of the 30,000-plus average daily population
work for $1, in 55 of the roughly 250 detention facilities used by ICE.
Local governments operate 21 of the programs, and private companies run
the rest, agency officials said.
These detainees are typically compensated with credits toward food,
toiletries and phone calls that they say are sold at inflated prices.
(They can collect cash when they leave if they have not used all their
credits.) “They’re making money on us while we work for them,” said Jose
Moreno Olmedo, 25, a Mexican immigrant who participated in the hunger
strike at the Tacoma holding center and was released on bond from the
center in March. “Then they’re making even more money on us when we buy
from them at the commissary.”
A Legal Gray Area
Some advocates for immigrants express doubts about the legality of the
work program, saying the government and contractors are exploiting a
legal gray area.
“This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from
hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of
undocumented immigrants in the country,” said Carl Takei, a lawyer with
the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.
Jacqueline Stevens, a professor of political science at Northwestern
University, said she believed the program violated the 13th Amendment,
which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment
for crime. “By law, firms contracting with the federal government are
supposed to match or increase local wages, not commit wage theft,” she said.
Immigration officials underestimate the number of immigrants involved
and the hours they work, Professor Stevens added. Based on
extrapolations from ICE contracts she has reviewed, she said, more than
135,000 immigrants a year may be involved, and private prison companies
and the government may be avoiding paying more than $200 million in
wages that outside employers would collect.
A 2012 report by the A.C.L.U. Foundation of Georgia described
immigrants’ being threatened with solitary confinement if they refused
certain work. Also, detainees said instructions about the program’s
voluntary nature were sometimes given in English even though most of the
immigrants do not speak the language.
Eduardo Zuñiga, 36, spent about six months in 2011 at the Stewart
Detention Center in Georgia, awaiting deportation to Mexico. He had been
detained after being stopped at a roadblock in the Atlanta area because
he did not have a driver’s license and because his record showed a
decade-old drug conviction for which he had received probation.
At Stewart, Mr. Zuñiga worked in the kitchen and tore ligaments in one
of his knees after slipping on a newly mopped floor, leaving him unable
to walk without crutches. Despite doctors’ orders to stay off the leg,
Mr. Zuñiga said, the guards threatened him with solitary confinement if
he did not cover his shifts. Now back in Mexico, he said in a phone
interview that he must walk with a leg brace.
Gary Mead, who was a top ICE administrator until last year, said the
agency scrutinized contract bids from private companies to ensure that
they did not overestimate how much they could depend on detainees to run
Detainees cannot work more than 40 hours a week or eight hours a day,
according to the agency. They are limited to work that directly
contributes to the operation of their detention facility, said Ms.
Christensen, the agency spokeswoman, and are not supposed to provide
services or make goods for the outside market.
But that rule does not appear to be strictly enforced.
At the Joe Corley Detention Facility north of Houston, about 140
immigrant detainees prepare about 7,000 meals a day, half of which are
shipped to the nearby Montgomery County jail. Pablo E. Paez, a spokesman
for the GEO Group, which runs the center, said his company had taken it
over from the county in 2013 and was working to end the outside meal
Near San Francisco, at the Contra Costa West County Detention Facility,
immigrants work alongside criminal inmates to cook about 900 meals a day
that are packaged and trucked to a county homeless shelter and nearby jails.
A Booming Business
While President Obama has called for an overhaul of immigration law, his
administration has deported people — roughly two million in the last
five years — at a faster pace than any of his predecessors. The
administration says the sharp rise in the number of detainees has been
partly driven by a requirement from Congress that ICE fill a daily quota
of more than 30,000 beds in detention facilities. The typical stay is
about a month, though some detainees are held much longer, sometimes for
Detention centers are low-margin businesses, where every cent counts,
said Clayton J. Mosher, a professor of sociology at Washington State
University, Vancouver, who specializes in the economics of prisons. Two
private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America and the
GEO Group, control most of the immigrant detention market. Many such
companies struggled in the late 1990s amid a glut of private prison
construction, with more facilities built than could be filled, but a
spike in immigrant detention after Sept. 11 helped revitalize the industry.
The Corrections Corporation of America’s revenue, for example, rose more
than 60 percent over the last decade, and its stock price climbed to
more than $30 from less than $3. Last year, the company made $301
million in net income and the GEO Group made $115 million, according to
Prison companies are not the only beneficiaries of immigrant labor.
About 5 percent of immigrants who work are unpaid, ICE data show.
Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County, Ohio, said his county saved
at least $200,000 to $300,000 a year by relying on about 40 detainees
each month for janitorial work. “All I know is it’s a lot of money
saved,” he said.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration
Studies, an advocacy group that promotes greater controls on
immigration, said that with proper monitoring, the program had its
advantages, and that the criticisms of it were part of a larger effort
to delegitimize immigration detention.
Some immigrants said they appreciated the chance to work. Minsu Jeon,
23, a South Korean native who was freed in January after a monthlong
stay at an immigration detention center in Ocilla, Ga., said that while
he thought the pay was unfair, working as a cook helped pass the time.
“They don’t feed you that much,” he added, “but you could eat food if
you worked in the kitchen.”
Kristina Rebelo contributed reporting from San Diego, and Kitty Bennett
contributed research from St. Petersburg, Fla.
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