Liberal Judge Allows Thousands Of Illegal Immigrant To Sue Private Prison For Making Them Work While They Await Deportation

 Alene Tchekmedyian | LA Times --

During part of her time in an immigrant detention center in Colorado, Grisel Xahuentitla spent six hours a day passing out trays before meals, scrubbing toilets and scouring showers.

She was participating in a voluntary work program that allows detainees to earn $1 a day to help with the upkeep of the facility.

“When you are in there, there’s not a lot of options for you,” said Xahuentitla, 33, recounting her four-month stay at the Aurora Detention Facility in 2014. “You’ve got to follow their rules; you got to do what they tell you.”

Shortly after her release, she and eight other former detainees filed a lawsuit against the operator of the facility, GEO Group, alleging the company was unfairly enriched by the program.

Now, Xahuentitla’s case could affect up to 60,000 immigrants who were held in the facility over the course of a decade. A federal judge ruled on Feb. 27 that the plaintiffs could move forward with a class-action lawsuit against GEO Group, which operates dozens of private prisons and detention centers across the country.

The company, which contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to operate the 1,500-bed center in Aurora, says it has done nothing wrong, noting in a court filing that such programs are “fully authorized by the federal government — and have been for decades.”

“We have consistently, strongly refuted these allegations, and we intend to continue to vigorously defend our company against these claims,” GEO spokesman Pablo Paez said via email.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge John Kane certified two classes of plaintiffs.

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