ICE permits and encourages unfair labor practices at immigration detention centers in New Mexico

Individuals held in immigration detention typically do not have work authorization. However, ICE detention standard 5.8 defines a “Voluntary Work Program” whereby detained individuals can earn a minimum of $1 per eight our work day.1 On 21 December 2017 “a majority of the USCCR voted to call on Congress to investigate alleged abusive labor practices at government- and privately-operated immigration detention centers and require fair wages for all detainees”2

The USCCR further observes that the dollar a day rate was set in 1950 and was based on the Geneva Convention’s requirement that prisoners be paid a “fair working rate of pay.” That one dollar a day pay rate for detained migrant labor has remained unchanged for 70 years. Two law review articles conclude that the immigration detention voluntary work program violates multiple labor laws, as well as the Fifth, Sixth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.3

Adding insult to injury, MTC asserts that it “strives to be a leader in social impact”,4 and that it not only meets stablished standards but claims to “exceed those standards to the benefit [sic] those in our care”.5 And yet ICE inspections show that MTC pays detained migrants only the minimum $1.00 per day. Based on ICE standards, for year-round full-time work, a detained person at OCPC can expect to make $2,080 per year. At federal minimum wage ($7.25) a full-time worker makes that in less than two months.

The USCCR noted that “[i]n a deposition, one provider testified that if there were no voluntary workers, the provider would have to hire additional workers who would have to be paid an hourly wage to comply with its contract with ICE.”6 In 2008 ICE inspectors found OCPC deficient due to unsanitary food service conditions.7 That same inspection document states “[f]ood service has approximately 12-15 detainees assigned to work food service and they receive $1.00 per day. The food service quota of detainee workers needs to be increased to enhance overall sanitation.”8 Thus, an ICE inspector found the facility deficient because of unsanitary conditions and prescribed increasing the detained migrant labor force to bring the facility up to ICE standards. A supposed benefit of an immigration detention center in a remote place like Chaparral is that it brings jobs into the local economy. Moreover, a proposed purpose of enforcing immigration law is to protect low-paid U.S. workers from being allegedly undercut by low-paid migrant labor. Yet, ICE’s own inspectors encourage MTC to fill their labor needs not with local workers compensated at minimum wage or more, but rather to call for detained migrant laborers who are paid $1 per day. The USCCR Commission calls on DHS and Congress to investigate abusive labor practices among all detained migrant workers. We call on New Mexico legislators to support HB624 to halt the expansion of immigration detention and implement immediate independent unannounced inspections of ICE detention centers.

Please sign on in support of HB624 the Rubio-Maestas Immigration Detention Facilities Act.

  1. ICE, “Performance Based National Detention Standards 2011” (Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Enforcement and Removal Office, 2016), 405–9,
  2. USCCR. “Alleged Abusive Labor Practices at Immigration Detention Centers.” United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), January 2, 2018.
  3. Anita Sinha, “Slavery by Another Name: ‘Voluntary’ Immigrant Detainee Labor and the Thirteenth Amendment,” Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties; Stanford 11, no. 1 (January 2015): 1–44; Jacqueline Stevens, “One Dollar Per Day: The Slaving Wages of Immigration Jail, From 1943 to Present,” Georgetown Immigration Law Journal 29, no. 3 (2015): 391–500.
  4. MTC, “Otero County Processing Center: Preparing Detainees for Successful Re-Entry” (MTC, 2017),
  5. MTC, “Family & Friends – Otero County Processing Center,” Management and Training Corporation, accessed December 18, 2017,
  6. USCCR, “Alleged Abusive Labor Practices at Immigration Detention Centers,” 2.
  7. ERO. “Detention Facility Review, Otero County Processing Center, Chaparral, NM, Sept 16-18, 2008.” Detention Facility Review. Washington D. C.: Enforcement and Removal Operations, Department of Homeland Security, September 16, 2008.
  8. ERO, “Detention Facility Review, Otero County Processing Center, Chaparral, NM, Sept 16-18, 2008,” 18.