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Immigration Law

New FOIA Release - Butler County ICE Detainees Paid in Coffee Packets, ICE Punishes Hunger Strikers in Tacoma

Prof. Jacqueline Stevens, Mar. 25, 2019

"Attorneys have been suing private prisons for their exploitation of people in custody under immigration laws, a phenomenon that has been receiving increasing coverage by the mainstream media.  But county facilities also are violating labor laws.  This post discusses highlights of the labor situation in the Butler County Jail. 

A document released last week shows that ICE has been aware that Butler County has been requiring people to work without compensation since at least 2014. Here's the text from an email a reporter sent to public affairs official Gillian Christensen, who copied and pasted it in her own email to ICE custody officials Tae Johnson, Kevin Landy, and Andrew Strait-Lorenzen:

Just got call from Sheriff Jones from Butler County Ohio.  So, he said that none of the immigrant detainees work on chain gangs, they don't leave the four walls.  However, he did say that his immigrant detainees work jobs inside the jail.  He houses about 300 immigrants on any given day and typically about 50 are working jobs.  I asked him whether these jobs are paid.  he said no.  "it's just part of what I require".  They do all the work on cleaning, upkeep of the section of the jail where they are housed.  He estimated it saves him hundreds of thousands of dollars per year not having to hire staff to handle janitorial and such in that section of the jail.  He said he is not a member of the federal work progrm so he doesn't get a dollar a day reimbursement because his detainees are housed there for too short a period and the federal paper work would not be worth the headache.  (FOIA Supp. Release I, p. 194)

In a New York Times article published shortly after this email, Ian Urbina wrote:

Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County, Ohio, said his county saved at least $200,000 to $300,000 a year by relying on about 40 detainees each month for janitorial work. “All I know is it’s a lot of money saved,” he said.

Urbina's report in the Times is terrific, but omits legally important information: the jail is not paying folks a penny for their work and not participating in the reimbursement program. 

The private prison firms GEO Corp. and CoreCivic, as well as ICE, have defended paying people in custody under immigration laws $1/day or more based on a section of the Performance Based National Detention Standards and a 1950 statute authorizing payment of allowances for work performed by those held under immigration laws at a rate to be set by Congress from time to time in the appropriations act.  (Here is law review article criticizing these legal claims and explaining the program's history.)

No one in ICE has provided any legal rationale for incentivizing work by those in custody under immigration laws by more food, visitation, or threats of force, overt or implicit.

To find out if the 2014 email and reporting on Butler County triggered any changes, I spoke today with Sheriff Richard Jones and Chief Anthony Dwyer.  
Jones claimed to have no recollection of any report in the New York Times about his work program or any conversation with ICE about this, either.  He also claimed to have much less knowledge of the program more generally than he had in 2014, suggesting that the longer he has run the jail, the less familiar he has become with how it operates.  When I asked if the facility participated in the formal work program compensating people at least $1/day he said, "I have no idea.  I wish i could tell you. I don't know if we participate." Sheriff Jones said someone with more working knowledge would call me back.
Chief Dwyer confirmed that the jail, found out of compliance on dozens of ICE standards, still was not participating in the formal "Voluntary Work Program."  He explained that each unit of about 100 people has two porters.  The porters personally mop and maintain the living quarters as well as elicit work by others, such as cleaning the showers, painting, and general upkeep.  The porters, selected monthly, receive 20 coffee packages/ week, "the same as sentenced inmates" in the part of the jail used for prisoners convicted of crimes.
"ICE runs a program where they require a stipend," he explained.  "We operate under an IGSA standard for the facility" that does not require this.  The compensation, in addition to the coffee, includes increased visiting options and also exemptions from facility lockdowns.  "Being a porter is a privilege," he explained.
I suggested to Chief Dwyer that even if the labor of the porters and those working under the porters truly is not at gunpoint,  it still might not be legal.  McDonalds cannot defend itself, for instance, by claiming that people without legal authorization to work thought it fine, even a privilege, to be paid in Big Macs.  
Dwyer referenced a text message someone had sent him in preparation for our interview with a screen shot of the IGSA requiring only that the compensation be identical to those in criminal custody.  He also rejected my McDonalds analogy, stating it was inappropriate for a "correctional environment."  
And yet, as I pointed out, and as is clear in the contract Chief Wyden personally signed, people in custody under immigration laws are not there for purposes of "correction."  As the contract states
All persons in the custody of BICE will be referred to as an "Administrative Detainee".  This term recognizes that BICE detainees are not charged with criminal violations and are only held in custody to assure their presence throughout the administrative hearing process...
Sheriff Jones had referred to "immigration prisoners" and Chief Wyden said any emphasis on the distinction between ICE and criminal detainees was "an invalid point." He stated that the IGSA with ICE stated that as long as the porters held for ICE are "compensated like anybody else," i.e,., the porters convicted of crimes, then the jail had no legal worries.  I asked if he could read the portion of the text that stated this.  He stated he had seen a picture of this section of the contract but could not read it to me.  He reiterated that the "IGSA says we should compensate for whatever you do the same as you do for anyone else you in the facility."  (Of course as soon as we hung up I submitted a request for this under the Freedom of Information Act.)
MORE - Hunger Strike Docs for Tacoma, Woman Choked in Delany Hall, NJ (p. 280)
The document here and thousands of pages more are a result of litigation under the Freedom of Information Act.  Andrew Free has been representing me in this litigation for several years, with assistance from local counsel in Chicago Andy Szot; in recent months, attorney Nicolette Glazer has taken over.  Their work makes possible my research, publications, and especially important, a number of student training opportunities."