Lawsuit accuses Aurora immigrant jail of forcing inmates to work

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AURORA | A lawsuit filed this week accuses the Geo Group immigrant detention center in Aurora of violating the law by paying detainees $1 a day to clean cells and serve food.

Alejandro Menocal, who spent three months at the facility this year before being released, filed the lawsuit along with eight current and former detainees.

Menocal, 53, who is a legal resident and eventually won his immigration case in court, said that while he was locked up at the facility near Peoria Street and East 30th Avenue, he worked as a landscaper and served food, all of it for just $1 a day.

“Us detainees, we kept Geo running,” he said during a press conference Thursday morning outside the detention facility.

In a statement Thursday, Geo said they follow all federal guidelines when it comes to inmate labor.

Brandt Milstein, one of the lawyers representing Menocal, said inmates have to wax floors, scrape floors, do landscaping and clerical work or food service or they risk being placed in solitary confinement.

“Geo forces the people who are detained there to work,” he said.

Using inmates labor inside a detention facility is a common practice at government-run jails and prisons around the country. Inmates in state and federal prisons do everything from cooking and cleaning to basic maintenance. Milstein said the situation is different at the Aurora jail. The facility is operate by Geo Group for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service. Milstein believes every person, including inmates, should be making the minimum wage, but paying less than that is especially egregious at a for-profit detention center like Geo. That’s because the inmates there are accused of violating immigration laws and are not accused of misdemeanor or felony crimes. Some inamtes, like Menocal, are eventually cleared and released, he said.

The lawsuit seeks damages for the inmates as well as increased wages for future work.

In the statement, Geo officials said: “GEO’s facilities, including the Aurora, Colo. facility, provide high quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary.”

The statement said inmate labor and wage rates are set by the federal government. The company also noted that its facilities are regularly inspected at random by federal regulators, and the Aurora location received a perfect score during its last inspection.