LSJ and sociology major and human rights and labor studies minor, Elizabeth Lu Gao, completed their thesis last term, with Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies Research Coordinator, Rachel Erstad, as their second reader. Lu Gao's thesis focused on financial contributions of Detention Corporations - and how this may or may not impact politics. Below is Lu Gao's write-up from LABOR 480 connecting migrant justice and worker justice through their research findings and reflections.
In Winter 2022, I took Professor Angelina Godoy’s course “Human Rights in Latin America” which had a fundamental component of building solidarity with the local grassroots community organization La Resistencia in pushing forth the “Shut Down the NWDC,” “FreeThemAll,” “NoTechForICE,” and many other movements aimed to dismantle the institutions and systems of oppression that uphold immigration oppression. Labor justice was among the many human rights demands, and coincided with my experiences in doing grassroots community organizing movement work focusing on various areas of workers rights-based justice.
Coincidingly, I interned at SEIU775 in the Building a Movement program. The crossovers in my experiences of migrant justice and labor union-oriented justice deepened my critical understanding and reflections of what it means and what it takes to dismantle systems of oppression for the transformative liberation and healing that marginalized generations before me have paved towards. During BAM, I wrote a poem and a op-ed about migrant justice, bringing it into SEIU 775 and broader labor spaces asserting the need to better integrate migrant justice in labor and other justice focuses.
In those periods of reflection, I did not fully consider the apparent absence of labor justice through my experience of a migrant justice lens. Mainly, the discourse in the migrant justice movement demands a centering on human rights- abolishing the violations and abuses whole and all. Centering labor justice within my research intending towards migrant justice, I reflect on my research findings in conjunction with the labor movement. Because migrants’ labor is the most targeted perpetuation of migrant oppression within their homelands and after migration outside their homelands, migrant and labor justices live within each other. One cannot prevail without the other.
The most striking research finding is GEO Group’s total of almost $7 million dollars donated to Florida state party committees. Labor unions must be alerted of this heavy financial contribution to Florida’s state politics. Marco Rubio, a senator and suspected presidential candidate, is one of the Florida state politicians that GEO Group donated most to. Marco Rubio and other politicians are internally involved with GEO Group’s business. The deep and intertwined relationships between certain politicians, especially Republican politicians with outspoken anti-labor sentiments and/or actions, would hinder the Florida state’s labor justice progress and moreover the federal labor justice progress. Labor unions in Florida and the federal level labor unions and organizations should be aware of how deep GEO Group and broadly mass private detention profiting infringes the labor rights of undocumented and documented non-white immigrants and even citizens, the ones who disproportionately have the most precarious and essential jobs throughout the country.
It is quite astonishing that GEO Group and CoreCivic have only modestly donated to Washington state politicians and state party committees when the Northwest Detention Center is a large entity. It is moreover odd how GEO Group and CoreCivic have donated more to politicians and party committees from other states also with just one GEO Group or CoreCivic facility or even none. This concerns the labor movement as much as the migrant justice movements- as indirect as it may be, the money fueled into politics holds labor ties, very likely exploited from the marginalized and oppressed undocumented, incarcerated, and vulnerable workers. It is arguable that the donations GEO Group and CoreCivic selectively made to certain states were considered upon the labor dynamics within those states. Since donations on a broad scale align and match to the funding contracts GEO Group and CoreCivic have with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice agreed upon specific facilities, it suggests the entrenched systemic detention and deportation pipeline is directly related to prison-industrial complex labor and hints at the aftermath labor.
Labor is definitely entrapped within the prison-industrial and detention/deportation complexes, as corporations construct whole economies upon incarceration, imprisonment, detention, and deportation to profit off of the already most marginalized and oppressed BIPOC and immigrant populations. It is a labor right for GEO Group and CoreCivic to be transparent with their political activities, as those political activities are used to maintain the status quo of their power and oppression. Although my research does not uncover evidence to this, it is not an overstatement when it is (still) reported how the detained folks in NWDC experience human rights violations and abuses- subjected to eating moldy food, wearing moldy ragged clothes, drinking dirty water, living in dangerously crowded spaces, receiving unconsented medical operations, and much more that is unimaginable. The most direct labor injustice is forcing them to do things to keep the facility functioning (washing, cleaning, etc) and paying them less than a dollar a day. Forcing detained folks to do labor instead of hiring workers is labor injustice, while not paying them proper wages and providing them a safe work space at the very least is another major labor injustice.
Essentially, the existence of detention and prison facilities perpetuates labor injustice and oppression. As long as there are beds, there is an institutionalized incentive to fill those beds, meanwhile the intricate institutionalized processes to detain, imprison, and deport operate upon deep racism and capitalism in its targeted criminalizations. In fact, the most marginalized, vulnerable, and oppressed essential workers keeping our society running- “the fellow BIPOC and non-white immigrant workers that grow and harvest, sew and craft, package and transport, cook and serve, clean and tidy, care and tend, build and construct, and everything across and between the invisibilized weaves of our life- are the ones that are wrongfully tracked, arrested, detained, and deported by ICE” (Op-Ed) and locked up in GEO Group, CoreCivic, and other detention corporations’ facilities.
As my reflections are heavily based upon my prior experiences and knowledge about the prison-industrial complex, mass incarceration, mass detention and deportation, and other relevant systemic issues that are funneled and cycled by racialized criminalization, exploitation, and extraction, it is crucial for future research expanding on my research findings. It is necessary, especially within labor justice and movement framework lens, to untangle explanations to the reasons and pushes for GEO Group and CoreCivic to donate to certain states over others, to donate to other states with also one or less GEO Group and CoreCivic facilities, etc. Future research also must put into conversation how political contributions and dark money hinder labor justice and exacerbate labor oppression.
Demanding for the transparency of GEO Group’s and CoreCivic’s political activities is crucial in expanding and strengthening movements. Requiring a list of donations must include for donation amounts, to which entities, and reasons why. It establishes a lane of institutional accountability from further systemic oppressions. The accountability provides an additional strategic framework for movement visions, which must extend from political contribution transparency to the breakdown of dark money. However, detention corporations’ money spent on politics and law does not directly guarantee transformative liberation, healing, and justice for undocumented and incarcerated workers. Intersectional abolition will. The accountability is a mere step building towards transformative liberation, healing, and justice.