February 15, 2018 Folkston, GA - Georgia is home to three privately operated immigration detention centers, including the Folkston ICE Processing Center near the Georgia-Florida border. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Georgia lawmakers back $1 a day pay in immigration detention centers

Three Georgia congressmen signed a letter this month in support of allowing privately run immigration detention centers to pay immigrants facing deportation $1 a day for volunteer work behind bars.

Republican U.S. Reps. Buddy Carter, Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk joined 15 other House members from other states in signing the letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.

The Volunteer Work Program, they wrote, seeks to reduce “the negative impact of confinement through decreased idleness,” improve morale and prevent “disciplinary incidents.” Aimed at protecting the work program in the face of legal challenges, the congressmen’s letter says immigrants are not employees of the detention centers where they are being held and should not be allowed to file lawsuits for payments from those facilities.

“Unless your agencies act to intervene in these lawsuits,” the letter says, “immigration enforcement efforts will be thwarted and the end result will be millions of dollars of unnecessary loss to the federal government in terms of additional expenses for immigration detention.”

Georgia is home to three privately operated immigration detention centers. Run by Florida-based GEO Group, the Folkston ICE Processing Center is located in Carter’s 1st congressional district. Nashville-based CoreCivic operates the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin. And Miami-based CGL and Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections manage the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla.

Exclusive: A look inside Georgia’s newest immigration detention center

GEO submitted the congressmen’s letter — first reported by the Daily Beast — to a federal court in California this month, asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit a former detainee has filed against the company. Raul Novoa, who was held at the GEO-run Adelanto ICE Processing Center northeast of Los Angeles, is suing GEO, alleging the company “significantly reduces its labor costs and expenses, and increases its already vast profits, by unlawfully forcing and coercing detainees to perform labor at subminimum wages.”

In its defense, GEO cited the U.S Justice Department’s recent legal challenge against California’s sanctuary laws, saying Novoa’s lawsuit brims with “political rhetoric” and is “cut from the same cloth as the statutes that the DOJ has challenged.”

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