Immigrant Detainees Work for a Dollar a Day

By Aura Bogado May 27, 2014

At least 60,000 immigrants worked for the detention centers they were being held in in 2013–many for just a dollar a day. That’s according to Ian Urbina, in new report in the New York Times, where Urbina also found that some immigrants work in county jails for free. Out of the roughly 30,000 detainees held daily, some 5,500 work for pennies an hour, doing the essential cooking and cleaning. 

Detainee workers also include those seeking asylum, permanent residents and even U.S. citizens. Pedro Guzmán, a 34-year-old whose visa was erroneously revoked, says he was threatened for not working through a fever:

"I went from making $15 an hour as a chef to $1 a day in the kitchen in lockup," said Pedro Guzmán, 34, who had worked for restaurants in California, Minnesota and North Carolina before he was picked up and held for about 19 months, mostly at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. "And I was in the country legally."

Mr. Guzmán said that he had been required to work even when he was running a fever, that guards had threatened him with solitary confinement if he was late for his 2 a.m. shift, and that his family had incurred more than $75,000 in debt from legal fees and lost income during his detention. A Guatemalan native, he was released in 2011 after the courts renewed his visa, which had mistakenly been revoked, in part because of a clerical error. He has since been granted permanent residency.

You can read the story in full over at The New York Times