ATLANTA, Aug. 7, 2020 – Attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Perkins Coie LLP, Project South and the Law Office of Andrew R. Free today filed a motion to dismiss CoreCivic’s counterclaim against the plaintiffs in the forced labor lawsuit, Barrientos vs. CoreCivic.
The private detention company filed their countersuit in June claiming that if the plaintiffs win their case, they would owe the corporation the cost of their detention at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA.
CoreCivic alleged that if it were ordered to pay migrants for the work they were forced to perform, those detained people should pay CoreCivic for the very same services the company is already getting paid by the U.S. government to provide, at a profit.
“CoreCivic’s shameless counterclaim proves that the corporation prioritizes fattening its own pockets over caring for the people it detains,” said CJ Sandley, a senior staff attorney with SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “The counterclaim offers a window into how the company views Stewart, which already has the reputation of being a miserable place, as being first and foremost an opportunity for CoreCivic to generate maximum profit.”
According to the lawsuit, CoreCivic violated federal anti-trafficking laws by coercing detained migrants to work in its “Dollar-a-Day” program, in which migrants were paid as little as $1 dollar per day to clean, maintain and operate Stewart. While saving CoreCivic hundreds of dollars per week per detained worker, the scheme forced migrants to work by threatening them with solitary confinement, the loss of access to basic necessities like personal hygiene products and denial of phone calls to loved ones.
“CoreCivic abuses, dehumanizes and exploits the immigrants they detain at Stewart and then asks their victims to pay for the experience in return,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director of Project South. “The human rights catastrophe at Stewart demands we reimagine our unjust immigration system. Private corporations driven by their bottom-line have no place in the lives of our immigrant friends and neighbors.”
According to the motion to dismiss, CoreCivic’s counterclaim fails to state a claim that the corporation is entitled to payment from the plaintiffs. CoreCivic fails to allege that it ever expected those in its care to be responsible for the cost of basic necessities, nor could it plausibly claim it is entitled to such a payment from detained individuals when CoreCivic receives tax payer dollars to operate Stewart pursuant to its federal contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In recent months, CoreCivic and ICE have escalated their mistreatment of migrants at the detention center. At least 153 detained migrants have tested positive for COVID-19, and ICE has confirmed at least one COVID-19 death. To make matters worse, CoreCivic has retaliated to pleas for release and medical help with appalling use of force and medical neglect.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.