March 29, 2022
IRLI defends federal alien detention system
WASHINGTON—Yesterday, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals urging the reversal of a district court’s ruling in a case aimed at crippling the federal government’s system of detaining illegal aliens and criminal aliens, largely in facilities operated by federal contractors. At issue is the requirement, set by Congress, that aliens who volunteer to work in these detention facilities receive $1 per day in compensation.
The district court ordered that a facility operated by the GEO Group, a federal contractor, had to pay its detainees Washington State’s minimum wage of $11.50 per hour—even though detainees receive free room and board—and awarded millions in back wages. The GEO Group appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
In its brief on appeal, IRLI shows that in setting the $1-per-day rate by statute, Congress sought to align voluntary-work compensation in immigration detention facilities with similarly-low rates of compensation for voluntary work in state and federal prisons and other facilities across the country, and that this congressional purpose is blocked if facilities have to pay $11.50 per hour. As IRLI points out, a state law that poses an obstacle to the purpose of a federal law violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
“This lawsuit is part of a nationwide effort to make the cost of detaining aliens unacceptably high, in hopes of crashing the system,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “Fortunately, it won’t succeed in the end. It makes no policy sense to pay detainees minimum wage when they already get free room and board, especially since they can leave detention at any time and return to their own countries. And it makes no legal sense to claim that a state’s minimum wage law trumps an act of Congress. We trust the court will recognize the obvious point that federal law is supreme over state law, reverse the district court, and affirm Congress’s authority in this area.”
The case is Nwauzor, et al. v. The GEO Group Inc., Nos. 21-36024 & 21-36025 (Ninth Circuit).
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