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Detained immigrants provide cheap labor in Texas, nationwide

This week, the New York Times reported that incarcerated immigrants are forced to labor in detention centers ("Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor" 5/24/14). 

The report claims that nearly 5,500 incarcerated immigrants work every day — 60,000 people per year — in immigrant detention centers in the United States. Though federal officials claim that immigrants are not required to work, immigrant advocates are concerned that using immigrants for labor inside these facilities is neither lawful nor voluntary. Immigrant labor costs 13 cents per hour, which saves private prison corporations and the United States government $40 million per year. 

Detained men at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas staged a hunger strike earlier this year to protest such working conditions. The men were also protesting deportations, cell overcrowding, poor medical care and expensive commissary prices. 

Private prison officials have only commented that immigrant labor is legal and "helps with morale." Carl Takei, an attorney with  ACLU's National Prison Project, commented: "This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country." 

Jacqueline Stephens, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, believes that these immigrants' 13th Amendment rights are being violated. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involunary servitude, except when used as the punishment for a crime. "By law, firms contracting with the federal government are supposed to match or increase local wages, not commit wage theft," Stephens remarked. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claimes that detained people cannot work more than 40 hours per week, and are not permitted to provide work for any outside entity. 140 detained men at the Joe Corley Detention Center, however, make 7,000 meals per day, and half of those meals are sent to the Montgomery County Jail.