The private prison profiteer that was in 2021 ordered by a federal jury to pay millions in back wages to immigrants forced to work at a Washington facility has now been slapped with a more than $100,000 fine by California regulators, The Los Angeles Times reports.
A group of detained immigrants had filed a complaint about being forced by GEO Group to work for $1 a day (and apparently some for even less) in unsafe conditions at the Golden State Annex, including being given no personal protective equipment despite dealing with black mold and disinfectants. “Complaints were ignored, according to the complaint, and the hazards went unaddressed,” the report said. CAL/OSHA subsequently uncovered half a dozen violations before ordering $104,510 in fines, which the private prison profiteer is appealing, of course. Unfortunately for GEO Group, its track record isn’t doing it any favors.
RELATED STORY: GEO Group violated minimum wage laws by paying detained immigrants $1 a day for work
GEO Group roundup: In the past 22 months alone, the private prison profiteer has faced numerous violations and a milestone court verdict over its labor abuses and dangerous misuse of chemicals at its detention facilities. The $104,510 in fines from California regulators are chump change to the more than $23 million in unpaid wages and damages the company owes to immigrants at the Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) in Tacoma in Washington following a milestone court verdict in 2021.
Immigrants there had been forced to cook, clean, and maintain the facility for just $1 a day, in violation of state minimum wage law. But rather than pay them fairly, the company instead shut down the so-called voluntary work program as it appealed the settlement. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigations that same year further found that the company endangered detained immigrants at facilities in California and Washington by misusing toxic chemicals.
Complaints filed in 2022 by Immigrant Defense Advocates and the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice on behalf of seven immigrants at Golden State Annex mirrored those seen at other inhumane private detention facilities operated in contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“They alleged safety violations including failures by the facility administrators to provide personal protective equipment, maintain sanitary work spaces, prevent the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard against workplace-related illnesses and injuries,” The Los Angeles Times said. Detained immigrants described seeing “black dust spew from the air vents” and being given no instructions for the chemicals they were given for cleaning purposes. In one of its 2021 findings, the EPA said that GEO Group violated law in its misuse of chemicals at NWIPC, sickening detained immigrants. One of the chemicals, GS Neutral Disinfectant Cleaner, may cause “adverse effects on the bone marrow and blood-forming system,” “adverse liver effects,” and “contains a known or suspected reproductive toxin,” a data sheet said.
One complainant told The Los Angeles Times he was paid just a couple cents per hour to clean “restrooms, day room and living quarters” twice daily at Golden State Annex. He said workers had asked for raises, but were told that GEO Group—which listed more than $2.2 billion in revenue in 2021—can’t pay more than a dollar an hour. Can’t … or just doesn’t want to? “They made it seem like they were doing us a favor by giving us a job,” he told The Los Angeles Times. But it’s clearly detained immigrants who are doing GEO Group the favor.
Advocates with Immigrant Defense Advocates and the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice said that just a few years ago, CAL/OSHA probably wouldn’t have investigated allegations because they were unsure of their jurisdiction within these facilities. But a recent state law championed by advocates, AB 263, “clarified that private immigration detention facilities in the state of California must comply with all state and local public health orders, as well as workplace safety regulations.”
”Do we want immigration detention facilities closed and people freed? YES,” tweeted Immigrant Defense Advocates. “Does that mean we are going to stop seeking accountability from private prison companies? NO. We will fight them at every opportunity!”
The Los Angeles Times reports that legal advocates have said staffers at the site are now retaliating against detained immigrants, including removing items like pillows and bedding. This petty vindictiveness is also not new. When more than a dozen immigrants complained about conditions at Golden State Annex in 2021, they were rounded up and shipped out by ICE in the middle of the night. “I feel like certain individuals were targeted due to them knowing their rights and exercising their rights,” Francisco Martinez Gutierrez, one of the targeted men, told The Fresno Bee at the time.
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Listen to this episode of The Downballot for an in-depth analysis of the 2024 Arizona Senate race and the implications of Kyrsten Sinema's re-election decision. Special guest Victoria McGroary, the Executive Director of BOLD PAC, will also discuss the efforts to prevent losses among Hispanic voters and the fight against disinformation in Spanish language media.