Civil Rights Groups Sue Over Immigrant Labor At ICE Facility

A lawsuit claims that immigrant detainees at Stewart Detention Center are forced to perform work like cooking, cleaning and janitorial duties at just pennies per hour. 

Kate Brumback / Associated Press

The Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in Columbus Tuesday against CoreCivic, the private contractor who runs the Stewart Detention Center in West Georgia.

The suit claims that immigrant detainees there are forced to perform work like cooking, cleaning and janitorial duties at just pennies per hour.

“Core Civic is paying individuals in the work program $1 and $4 a day,” said Meredith Stewart, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “No one is making minimum wage, which is a windfall for Core Civic.

“If they weren’t using detainee immigrants to perform all this labor they would have to hire outside employees who would be entitled to minimum wage or more.”

Stewart is a civil immigration detention center, so individuals there can’t be forced to work for low pay.

CoreCivic would not comment on the lawsuit, but spokesman Jonathan Burns said the payment for the detainee labor complies with federally mandated rates.

“All work programs at our ICE detention facilities are completely voluntary and operated in full compliance with ICE standards,” he said in a statement.

But lawyers like Meredith Stewart charge that the program is not voluntary in “any meaningful sense.”

She said CoreCivic will deprive immigrant detainees of basic necessities like toothpaste and toilet paper, which they then have to buy from the commissary operated by CoreCivic.

“In order to make those purchases at the commissary, the vast majority of immigrant detainees have to work,” she said.

The Stewart ICE Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia is one of the largest ICE facilities in the country.