Government exploitation

Exploiting undocumented immigrants by making them work for low wages is a reality in detention centers. They are treated like regular prisoners when they really are not; some are individuals who are waiting for their cases to be resolved, while others are waiting for political asylum. Almost half of them, according to official data, may even obtain legal resident status.

It is ironic for the federal government to consider labor exploitation of undocumented immigrants to be illegal—while it pays tens of thousands of workers 13 cents an hour, instead of having outside contractors who get paid $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage. These are savings for the government, and in particular, for private businesses that manage the large majority of the 250 immigration detention centers throughout the country.

Detainees are put to work inside the centers. For examples, some work in the kitchen, whether making meals for that center’s detainees or preparing food for regular inmates in other prisons.

The authorities are only saying that what they are doing is legal and that participation is voluntary. However, several statements that The New York Times gathered showed that those who do not want to work are locked up in solitary confinement. That was the reason for a protest and hunger strike in April at the detention center in Tacoma, Washington.

Let’s clarify: undocumented immigrants are civil detainees waiting for a decision. They have not been convicted of anything and should not be treated like common prisoners, much less when it happens in order for private center operators to profit from it.

The undocumented are not convicted criminals. The federal government should give more consideration to this significant difference and what it means, instead of supporting the exploitation of these immigrants by private detention center operators.