Ending Forced Labor in ICE Detention Centers: A New Approach

Jonathon Booth
Date of Publication: 
June, 2021
Source Organization: 

Who holds the majority of migrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? What are the conditions of those being held? The answers may surprise you. Johnathan Booth examines issues arising from criminalized immigration in the article “Ending Forced Labor in ICE Detention Centers: A New Approach,” published by the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal. The author explains how ICE contracts with private prison companies to hold the majority of its detainees—over 70%—and that this practice has produced conditions of forced and coerced detainee labor. Private contractors offset expenses and turn hefty profits from forced migrant work, creating yet another form of human trafficking. ICE’s forced labor takes two forms: the “Voluntary Work Program” by which migrants may be paid $1 per day, and mandatory facility cleaning, which is uncompensated. Detainees who refuse to participate cannot access basic necessities and have reported retaliation in the form of solitary confinement from detention staff. These conditions violate the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act (TVPA), which forbids forced or coerced labor. The author suggests several lawsuits against private prison contractors are likely to succeed, obligating these companies to stop forced labor and to pay damages to victims of these abuses. While there are several potential ways to try to end forced labor in ICE detention facilities—including decreasing the number of detainees—enforcing protections of the TVPA is likely one of the fastest and most likely to succeed. (Katelin Reger for The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute)


Booth, J. (2020). Ending Forced Labor in ICE Detention Centers: A New Approach. Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, 34(3), 573–611. https://www.law.georgetown.edu/immigration-law-journal/in-print/volume-34-number-3-spring-2020/ending-forced-labor-in-ice-detention-centers-a-new-approach/