"There’s so much money they make from us, but they’re not investing any money in detainees. I have two dogs, and I treat my dogs much better than the detainees are treated in there.” - Pedro Guzmán
Private prisons and county jails force detained immigrants to work to maintain their facilities, usually paying them less than $1 a day and sometimes not at all. Exploiting the labor of detained immigrants allows companies to avoid paying the federal minimum wage to outside contractors.
Pedro Guzmán, a chef, came to the United States when he was eight years old. He had immigration status, but did not realize that it lapsed in 2008 because immigration officials sent a notice to the wrong address. So when ICE officers showed up at his house one morning to take him into custody, while he was loading his car with donation bags to take to Goodwill, he was taken completely by surprise. They handcuffed him in front of his U.S. citizen wife Emily and three-year-old son Logan, who was three years old.
Mr. Guzmán was detained for 19 months in Stewart Detention Center, a private prison in Georgia. To visit him, Emily and Logan had to drive ten hours each way from their home in North Carolina. At Stewart, Mr. Guzmán was put to work in the kitchen, where his shift began every morning at 2 a.m. If he was late, the guards threatened him with solitary confinement. At one point, he was forced to work when sick with fever. For this, he was paid $1 a day. All of Mr. Guzmán’s earnings went straight back into the coffers of the prison company, since he had no choice but to purchase food, hygiene products, and phone cards to call his family from the facility's commissary.
Finally, after more than a year and a half in detention, Mr. Guzmán won his deportation case and was released. Although he is now a green card holder, Mr. Guzmán and his family are tens of thousands of dollars in debt due to the legal fees and lost income incurred during his lengthy detention.