Often earning low wages and experiencing discrimination, all while facing the ever-present threat of deportation, undocumented workers in the U.S. don’t get many wins, said Luz Castro, deputy director of national policy for Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
But the announcement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Jan. 13 of a new policy designed to offer labor protections to undocumented workers was “definitely a win,” said Castro. “With the announcement from DHS they really conveyed the message that they have a clear commitment to undocumented workers.”
The new policy grants “noncitizen workers who are victims of, or witnesses to, the violation of labor rights” case-by-case protection from “threats of immigration-related retaliation from the exploitative employers,” DHS said. Workers will be able to request deferred action, that is, deferral of deportation under prosecutorial discretion by first getting a letter of support from a local, state or federal labor agency, then submitting an application through a central intake point with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The new policy provides clear guidance, Castro said. “Workers have a better understanding of what the process will look like.”
Any undocumented worker is always taking a risk when submitting a form to an agency, Castro said, and she hopes the new guidance “will provide more confidence to workers.”
“Unscrupulous employers who prey on the vulnerability of noncitizen workers harm all workers and disadvantage businesses who play by the rules,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a news release. “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.”
Raha Wala, vice president of strategic partnerships and advocacy for the National Immigration Law Center, called the policy “a momentous victory” that “will be critical to supporting collective organizing and making worksites across the country safer and more equitable for everyone.”
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler in a statement said the union supports DHS’ efforts to enforce labor laws.
“Workers rely on each other to take action to help enforce our labor laws, so we are all at risk when employers can use immigration threats to scare workers into silence. The commonsense procedures DHS has put in place will provide temporary status protections and work permits to workers who are exercising their workplace rights and reporting violations,” Shuler said.