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Appeals Court Broadens Immigrant Detainee Case Alleging Forced Labor

The GEO Group's immigrant detention facility in Aurora, Colo., where detainees are challenging forced work rules.
David Zalubowski
The GEO Group's immigrant detention facility in Aurora, Colo., where detainees are challenging forced work rules.

A federal appeals court in Colorado ruled that nine immigrant detainees who are challenging alleged conditions of forced labor at a detention facility in that state can represent a class of about 60,000 others who were detained at the same site.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld a lower court ruling saying that all of the immigrant detainees held by the GEO Group, Inc. at a government-contracted facility in Aurora, Colo., for the past 10 years should be represented by the suit.

The detainees allege that the company enacts a mandatory "Housing Unit Sanitation Policy" under which detainees are forced to clean for no pay "under the threat of solitary confinement as punishment for any refusal to work."

Under a separate "Voluntary Work Program," detainees are paid $1 a day for jobs such as painting, serving food, cutting hair, and cleaning clothes and bathrooms.

The detainees argue that the work requirements violate the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits forced labor and a Colorado state law barring "unjust enrichment."

The GEO Group, a private company, operates the Aurora detention facility under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A lower court had ruled that the nine detainees could proceed with their case against the company as a class action. The company appealed to the 10th Circuit, but a three-judge appellate panel sided with the detainees.

However, the appeals court, in its 37-page ruling, said that it was taking no position on whether the detainees as a class would succeed in proving their claims when the case returns to a lower court.

Representatives for GEO Group have not replied to emails seeking comment.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Richard Gonzales
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.