By Sheri Williams
The Department of Homeland Security recently announced new protections for migrant workers who are victims of workplace labor abuse.
Under the new guidance, workers can apply for protection from deportation if they are part of a workplace violation investigation, either as a victim or a witness.
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, leader of the California Labor Federation, applauded the change as a needed protection for some of California’s most vulnerable workers.
“We are seeing an unprecedented wave of workers organizing here in California and across the country. Too often, when workers come together to fight for better wages and working conditions, the bosses use immigration status to divide workers and keep them in the shadows,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “The guidance released today by the Department of Homeland Security will help ensure that workers can freely exercise their rights, report wage theft and unsafe worksites without fear of immigration threats. This raises standards for all workers and helps our state agencies effectively enforce basic labor laws.”
The Department of Homeland Security announced that “effective immediately, this process will improve DHS’s longstanding practice of using its discretionary authority to consider labor and employment agency-related requests for deferred action on a case-by-case basis. Workers will be able to visit DHS.gov for additional information in English and Spanish and to submit requests. These improvements advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to empowering workers and improving workplace conditions by enabling all workers, including noncitizens, to assert their legal rights.”
“Unscrupulous employers who prey on the vulnerability of noncitizen workers harm all workers and disadvantage businesses who play by the rules,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “We will hold these predatory actors accountable by encouraging all workers to assert their rights, report violations they have suffered or observed, and cooperate in labor standards investigations. Through these efforts, and with our labor agency partners, we will effectively protect the American labor market, the conditions of the American worksite, and the dignity of the workers who power our economy.”
The Department explained in a press release that workers are often too afraid of deportation or retaliation to report abuse and exploitation. The new rules are meant to alleviate those fears.
“Agencies tasked with enforcing labor and employment laws depend on the cooperation of these workers in their investigations. Refraining from reporting violations due to a fear of immigration-based retaliation creates unfair labor market conditions and perpetuates the commission of unlawful and inhumane acts by employers, including nonpayment of wages, the imposition of unsafe working conditions, and chilling workers’ ability to organize and collectively bargain to improve such conditions,” the agency said in a statement.