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Lawsuit Alleges ICE Detainees Work for $1 A Day

By Rick Sallinger

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - A lawsuit by detainees who have been at the Aurora ICE detention facility has won a significant victory in a nearly three year long fight that is still ongoing.

The detainees are claiming they were forced to work for little or no money in violation of the law. The center is run by the private firm GEO for the federal government.

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(credit: CBS)

A federal judge has now certified the detainees as a "class" meaning more than 60,000 people who spent time there are now suing GEO in this case.

RELATED: Protesters Gather Outside ICE Detention Center

The facility is where detainees are housed awaiting appearances in immigration court or deportation.

The suit charges GEO uses detainee labor to work for $1 a day or even free.

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(credit: CBS)

Nina DiSalvo is executive director of "Towards Justice" a non-profit organization fighting for the detainees.

She says GEO has two policies involved, for required work and voluntary work.

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Nina DiSalvo (credit: CBS)

"They force and require every detainee to work, maintaining and cleaning the facility for no pay at all under threat of solitary confinement."

Now Federal court judge John Kane has designated the detainees as a class, meaning some 62,000 people who spent time here are now suing the facility operator.

Erica Carrillo's boyfriend from Mexico is among those inside doing work.

"He's forced to clean of course. It's something they have to get done in there. Do you think it's fair? No they have workers who should be doing that."

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Erica Carrillo (credit: CBS)

She said he also cuts hair, which would be part of the voluntary work program.

Other duties by detainees include scrubbing bathrooms, showers and toilets according to those suing, DiSalvo says.

"It allows GEO to get away with running their facility without paying the real costs and therefore unjustly enriching themselves on the back of a captive workforce."

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2014, asks for an end to the work policies and millions of dollars in compensation.

GEO issued a statement saying it has "consistently, strongly refuted these allegations."

It added that the volunteer work program as well as wages are set by the Federal government. It states that its facilities are "highly rated and provide high-quality services in safe, secure and humane residential environments."

RELATED: Polis: 'Rogue ICE Agent Has Broken Protocol'

CBS4's Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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