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Towards Justice, Oct. 21, 2022
"Yesterday, a class of thousands of former immigration detainees won a path-breaking victory in federal court in their long-running lawsuit against the GEO Group—the private corporation that runs the Aurora, Colorado ICE detention facility. The plaintiffs allege that GEO forced them to clean and maintain the facility under threat of solitary confinement, in violation of federal prohibitions against forced labor, and paid them only $1 per day for other work that they performed for GEO’s own financial benefit, which they say unjustly enriched GEO in violation of state law. The plaintiffs are represented by the Colorado-based non-profit legal advocacy organization Towards Justice, Outten & Golden LLP, the Law Office of R. Andrew Free, Milstein Turner PLLC, and the Meyer Law Office P.C.
In a 76-page ruling in Menocal v. The GEO Group Senior District Judge John Kane of the federal District Court for the District of Colorado held, among other things, that the company cannot be shielded from liability because it committed the alleged violations while performing as a government contractor. Judge Kane held that GEO’s own discretionary policies, not directives from the government, underlie the Plaintiffs’ claims.
The court also concluded that the plaintiffs’ claims should continue to a jury trial. The court rejected GEO’s argument that detainees were not threatened with solitary confinement if they refused to work – a claim contradicted by GEO’s own written policies. The court noted that “Plaintiffs’ experiences paint a different picture, one in which the threat of segregation was made both via the written policies and verbally—and was always looming.” These threats, Plaintiffs allege, violate the forced labor provisions of federal anti-trafficking law.
Alejandro Menocal, lead plaintiff in the case, said, “I’m grateful that the judge ruled in our favor on these motions, and I look forward to telling my story to a jury so that they can judge GEO’s conduct for themselves.”
Juno Turner, Litigation Director at Towards Justice, said, “This decision makes clear what our clients have long known: the cruel and unlawful practices at issue in this case are rooted in GEO’s desire to maximize profit and exploit the labor of vulnerable detained immigrants – not government requirements. We have been fighting to get our clients’ stories to trial for more than eight years, and this victory brings us one step closer to holding GEO accountable.”
“This case is not only about GEO’s alleged cruelty,” said David Seligman, Towards Justice’s Executive Director. “It’s also about GEO’s use of captive labor to pad its bottom line. Instead of hiring outside employees and paying minimum wage, like other businesses, GEO exploited detained immigrants for the financial benefit of its executives and shareholders.”"