Private prison company must face lawsuit alleging it ran forced labor camps, 5th Circuit rules

Immigration Law

Private prison company must face lawsuit alleging it ran forced labor camps, 5th Circuit rules

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A private prison company accused of forcing immigrant detainees to work for no more than $2 per day is not exempt from a ban on forced labor, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Louisiana said CoreCivic is not exempt from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Law360 reports.

“Judges are not legislators,” the appeals court said in a 2-1 decision. “Legislators write laws—judges faithfully interpret them. So if a party wishes to have its activities exempted from a statute, it must ask the legislature to enact such an exemption, not the judiciary.”

The court ruled in a proposed class action brought by former detainee Martha Gonzalez, who said CoreCivic forced her to perform duties such as cleaning, cooking, landscaping, clerical services and barber services. If she refused, Gonzalez said, the company would impose punishments that included solitary confinement, physical restraints and restrictions on hygiene products.

CoreCivic had argued that, if the federal law applied to its work programs, it would also apply to parents who forced their children to do household chores. The 5th Circuit rejected that argument in an opinion by Judge James Ho, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.

“By that logic,” Ho wrote, “a thief who steals a toy from a child could avoid a larceny conviction by claiming that no one would convict a parent for taking his child’s toy away for misbehavior. That argument would surely fail. And that is presumably because we do not construe criminal statutes like larceny or battery to reflexively apply to the parent-child relationship but rather read them in light of parents’ well-established rights over their own children.”

The appeals court also rejected an argument that the federal law should be construed narrowly to cover only forced labor in the international human trafficking context. The text of the law “is broad” and doesn’t contain such a limit, Ho wrote.

Judge Andrew Oldham, another Trump appointee, dissented. He argued that the plaintiff’s case fails because she failed to allege that the program violated the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards, which set standards for voluntary work programs.

In a concurrence to his own opinion, Ho said that issue was not certified in the appeal, and there is no need to reach the issue.

The case is Gonzalez v. CoreCivic.


California’s ban on private prisons unconstitutionally interferes with immigration enforcement, 9th Circuit rules

Constitutional Law

California’s ban on private prisons unconstitutionally interferes with immigration enforcement, 9th Circuit rules

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A federal appeals court has ruled that a ban on private prisons in California unconstitutionally restricts the federal government’s authority to operate private detention facilities in the state.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco ruled Tuesday that the measure violates the supremacy clause and discriminates against the federal government.

Politico, Courthouse News Service and Law360 have coverage.

The appeals court said the measure, known as California Assembly Bill 32, unconstitutionally interferes with the authority of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which uses only private detention centers in California.

“California is not simply exercising its traditional police powers but rather impeding federal immigration policy,” said the panel majority in an opinion by Judge Kenneth Lee.

The 2-1 decision also held that the law discriminates against the federal government because it grants more exemptions and a longer phaseout period to the state’s operation of private prisons.

The 9th Circuit ruled in a suit by a private prison operator, the GEO Group Inc., and by the U.S. Department of Justice. Only the immigration facilities were at issue in the appeal, according to a dissent arguing that AB 32 was not preempted by federal law. The case is The Geo Group Inc. v. Newsom.

According to Politico, the decision “could be of some use” to the federal government in its lawsuit seeking to block the Texas abortion law. In that case, the DOJ is arguing that the Texas law impedes federal constitutional duties.

The ABA House of Delegates passed a resolution in August that opposes private prisons and juvenile detention centers.

A report submitted to the House argues that “private prison corporations are driven by perverse and immoral incentives whereby an increase in crime and an increase in the number of human beings placed into America’s prisons is good business news for that industry.”