The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Unpaid Work in Immigrant Prisons

Aug 17, 2015

Federal law says it’s illegal to work in the U.S. if you are an undocumented immigrant – except if you are imprisoned by the federal government for being undocumented. In which case, it’s also legal for your boss to pay you a dollar a day!

Delmi Cruz, a 36-year-old mother from Honduras, and her 11-year-old son were caught crossing the border about a year ago. They were put in a detention center in Karnes City, Texas, and kept there for about nine months. While behind bars, Cruz agreed to do cleaning work in the facility so that she could buy food and treats for her son. She was paid $3 a day – while the prison store charged her $4 for a bag of chips and $2 for bottled water. The prison is run by Geo Group, the second-largest private prison company in the U.S.

There are more than 80 such detention centers in the U.S., many of them run by private companies. These prisons house more than 30,000 immigrants on any given day, and the inmates do a lot of the work around these facilities – they in fact keep these facilities running. In return, these workers get paid between $1 and $3 a day, based on a law passed in 1950. In 1990, an appellate court upheld the $1 per day wage, cynically stating that “alien detainees are not government ‘employees.” That’s a bosses’ court speaking!

Bosses and government agencies serving them criminalize and attack poor immigrants, so that they can squeeze more work out of these workers without even paying for it!