Thousands of migrant workers, as well as other undocumented immigrants, may have been forced into labor in violation of federal anti-slavery laws, a federal judge ruled last week.

The ruling allowed the nine-person lawsuit to reach class-action status.

The case focuses on the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colo. The class-action lawsuit says that the private prison under a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement may have forced up to 60,000 immigrants to work against their will.

The Washington Post reported that the decision by a Colorado federal judge comes at a time when the Trump administration is ramping up efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.

While far from over, the ruling is the first to allow a forced labor case against a private prison to go forward.

This could have an impact on migrant farm workers across the United States, six out of 10 of whom are undocumented and 78 percent of whom are immigrants.

The agricultural sector of the economy could be drastically affected, as migrant farm workers help pick fruit and vegetables and pollinate seed corn varieties and have much experience doing so, despite being in the country illegally.

According to the Washington Post, the main plaintiffs in the case are permanent residents and attorneys expect that the majority of the people in the case are as well.

The plaintiffs were forced to work without pay or be subject to solitary confinement, according to the lawsuit. The federal judge said that would not be allowed under anti-trafficking and anti-slavery laws.

The case also claims the prison paid detainees $1 per hour, instead of $9 per hour, which is the Colorado minimum wage. The nine plaintiffs were seeking relief of $5 million.

Type of work:

Johnathan Hettinger focuses on pesticide coverage for Investigative Midwest. Growing up in central Illinois, Johnathan saw and had family members working in all aspects of agribusiness, from boots-in-the-field...

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