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ImmigrationU.S. govt. the largest employer of undocumented immigrants

Published 30 May 2014

At least 60,000 undocumented immigrants have worked at federal detention centers while waiting for an immigration court to hear their case. While detained, many immigrants work as cooks and janitors at federal and privately-run detention centers, often making less than $1 a day. The cheap labor saves the federal government and private companies at least $40 million a year by making it unnecessary to pay outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Since about half of all immigrants in immigration court typically win their case, this means that that tens of thousands of legal immigrants are working for less than a dollar a day in immigration detention facilities.

At least 60,000 undocumented immigrants have worked at federal detention centers while waiting for an immigration court to hear their case, according to the New York Times. Many of the detainees will lose their immigration court cases and be deported from the country. While detained, many immigrants work as cooks and janitors at federal and privately-run detention centers, often making less than $1 a day. The cheap labor saves the federal government and private companies at least $40 million a year by making it unnecessary to pay outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country,” said Carl Takei, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Voxreports that about half of all immigrants in immigration court will win their case, usually the judge rules that the immigrants are actually in the country legally or undocumented immigrants are eligible to apply for some form of legal status, but it is unclear how many immigrants are held in detention centers before their hearings. Some immigrants are allowed to return to their homes but are monitored with an ankle bracelet until their day in court.

There is a possibility, however, that tens of thousands of legal immigrants are working for less than a dollar a day in immigration detention facilities, only to be confirmed as legal immigrants upon concluding their immigration hearing.

“I went from making $15 an hour as a chef to $1 a day in the kitchen in lockup,” said Pedro Guzmán, 34-years-old, who had worked for restaurants in California, Minnesota, and North Carolina before he was detained for about nineteen months, mostly at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. “And I was in the country legally.”

Inefficiencies in the immigration court system have led to long processing times, making the average immigration court case last 516 days according to a March 2014 report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. A recent immigration court server meltdown has also prevented court staff from updating cases, making it difficult for immigrants in detention to schedule hearings.

Experts believe that immigration courts are underfunded. Since 2009, the court backlog has increased by 42 percent with only a 7 percent increase in hiring of immigration judges. Moreover, half of all immigration judges will be eligible to retire by the end of 2014. Congress continues to allocate enormous funds to DHS for immigration enforcement, but immigration courts operated by the Department of Justice have received little funding in comparison. In fiscal 2012, the federal government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement, but just roughly $300 million on the agency tasked with operating the nation’s immigration courts.