Deportation protection requested for detained immigrants who reported unsafe working conditions

June 20, 2024 /

The Golden State Annex detention center in McFarland, California. By Peg Hunter.

On May 23, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asking the federal immigration agency to grant at least two years of protection from deportation for seven immigrants inside the Golden State Annex ICE detention Center located in McFarland, which the GEO Group operates.

These individuals are key witnesses in an ongoing case investigating GEO for workplace violations that endangered detained immigrant workers at the Golden State Annex. The workers are represented by The California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, Immigrant Defense Advocates, and Worksafe. 

In 2022, seven individuals filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA while working for GEO as detained immigrants at the Golden State Annex. The workers performed essential cleaning and other duties in eight-hour shifts in unsafe conditions, for which they were paid only $1 per day. This additional injustice led dozens of them to launch a labor strike and sue the company

One individual has already been deported by ICE.

GEO has also been fined over $100,000 for violations which include willful failure to maintain “effective written procedures to reduce employee risk of exposure to aerosol transmissible disease.” Multiple COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred at this facility both before and after this penalty was issued. 

“We applaud Cal/OSHA for defending these serious citations with participation from the worker-detainees who filed the complaint. These workers experienced actual harm, serious illness, from Geo’s failure to implement COVID-19 measures, and they can testify to that,” said Karín Umfrey, Senior Attorney at Worksafe.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data gathering, data research, and data distribution organization at Syracuse University, there are currently over 37,000 immigrants in ICE detentions. Thousands of these immigrants are made to work inside these detention centers at any given time.  In 2021, California-based immigrant justice organizations supported the passage of AB 263, which clarified that privately operated immigrant detention centers in the state must comply with all local or state public health orders and occupational health and safety regulations, including those enforced by Cal/OSHA.

Additionally, years of public pressure from immigrant justice groups led to the establishment in 2023 of a streamlined government process for using prosecutorial discretion to grant deferred action – protection from deportation – and work authorization to immigrant workers who report abuses in the workplace. 

In April of 2024, the Office of the Inspector General performed an unannounced inspection of the Golden State Annex. This inspection found that Golden State Annex did not comply with grievance log or response requirements and detainees housed in segregation did not have access to required recreation facilities. 

Additionally, when regarding responses to detainee’s requests, the facility did not always respond to them within the three-day standard, nor did they always respond in the detainee’s preferred language. 

This is likely the first time that any state OSHA agency nationwide has issued a Statement of Interest for detained immigrant workers in the course of investigating ICE detention center workplace violations.

“By issuing this letter, Cal/OSHA recognized what detained workers have long said: they cannot be safe from retaliation in detention,” said Mariel Villarreal, Senior Attorney with the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice. “We call on ICE to end the contract with GEO and shut down the Golden State Annex detention center.”

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Victoria Rodgers

Victoria Rodgers is an editor and reporter for Kern Sol News. Born in Bakersfield, CA, she received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Rockford University in Illinois. She can be reached at