DENVER (CBS4) — A decision Friday by a federal appeals court clears the way for a class action lawsuit brought by nine detainees against an immigrant detention facility in Aurora.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruling affirmed a district court’s decision to allow the nine detainees to file the suit on behalf of approximately 60,000 people.
The detainees allege that the Aurora ICE Processing Center, owned and operated by The GEO Group, Inc., forced the detainees to clean the facility without pay and under threat of solitary confinement which, they claim, violates federal forced labor statutes.
The detainees also claim GEO is breaking Colorado law by paying some detainees $1 a day to work at the facility, unjustly enriching the company.
“This ruling shifts the power from a huge corporation to vulnerable detainees,” said David Lopez of Outten & Golden, LLP, a law firm that represents the class. “With that power, detainees will be able to challenge long-standing practices that have allowed GEO to exploit detainee labor while pocketing taxpayer dollars.”
GEO won a competitive bid process in December 1986 to build the Aurora facility. It has has capacity to hold 1,532 people and has won accreditation every year since 1989.
GEO sent a statement to CBS4 on Monday: “We intend to continue to vigorously defend our company against these claims. The terms of the voluntary work program at all federal immigration facilities are directed by the Federal government and governed by federal law. All ICE facilities operated by GEO, including the Aurora ICE Processing Center, are highly rated and provide high-quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments that meet the needs of individuals in the care and custody of federal immigration authorities pursuant to the Federal government’s performance-based national detention standards.”
The district court judge ruled against GEO’s request to dismiss the lawsuit in July of 2015.
The nine detainees in the case are Alejandro Menocal, Marcos Brambila, Grisel Xahuentitla, Hugo Hernandez, Lourdes Argueta, Jesus Gaytan, Olga Alexaklina, Dagoberto Vizguerra, and Demetrio Valegra.
“Immigrant detainees are exactly the type of workers who need the class action mechanism to seek justice,” explained Nina DiSalvo of Towards Justice, a non-profit legal group that represents the class.