Illegal Aliens Get Room and Board, Demand Minimum Wage

Press Releases

January 17, 2020

IRLI defends federal detention policy

WASHINGTON – The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in another 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 no more than $1 per day in compensation.

In setting this 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. Nevertheless, the State of Washington (one of the plaintiffs in this case) claims that this pay rate is unlawful in detention centers in Washington because it violates the state’s law setting the minimum wage at $11.50 per hour.

In its brief, IRLI points out that if Washington’s minimum-wage law is read as requiring that detainees be paid $11.50 per hour, that blocks Congress’s purpose of aligning compensation in immigration detention facilities with compensation in prisons. And 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. 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, and affirm Congress’s authority in this area.”

The case is Nwauzor, et al. v. The GEO Group Inc., No. 17-cv-05769 (E.D. Wash.).

For additional information, contact:

Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • blonergan@irli.org

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