WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Homeland Security on Friday announced a process by which migrant workers who witness or are victims of labor rights violations in the workplace can apply for deportation protection. workers demonstrating unlawful working conditions.
Friday’s announcement sets out rules on the agency’s website so applicants know what documentation they need to apply and how to do so.
“Workers are often afraid to report violations of the law by exploitative employers or to cooperate in employment and labor standards investigations because they fear being fired or other immigration-related retaliation by an abusive employer,” the agency said in a statement. “The agencies tasked with enforcing labor and employment laws depend on the cooperation of these workers in their investigations.”
The agency said it has in the past been able to use “discretionary powers” to consider deportation protection requests for workers who assist in labor investigations on a case-by-case basis. But the new rules create a “streamlined and accelerated” process and a centralized place to submit requests.
The new process allows migrant workers to apply for “delay of action,” which means protection from deportation, if they take part in an investigation of labor rights violations in the workplace.
As part of the application, they will be required to provide evidence from the placement or placement agency describing the investigation and why they need DHS support. They will also be required to show evidence that they have worked for the company, as well as documents such as ID. Applications will be reviewed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of Homeland Security that processes immigration and citizenship-related requests.
If approved, migrant workers cooperating with a labor investigation may stay in the country for two years. They can also apply for a permit to work legally in the country during this time.
Labor and immigration groups hailed the news as a way to protect migrant workers from employers who could use their immigration status as a way to get back at them for reporting things like pay or workplace violations.
“As immigration lawyers, we have seen too many of our clients suffer workplace abuse that they were too afraid to report for fear of retribution from unscrupulous employers,” said Ann Garcia, staff lawyer for the National Immigration Project.
In an October 2021 memo, DHS Secretary Alejandro Majorcas said the agency would consider requests to defer protection for migrants assisting in labor investigations, but did not lay out a detailed policy on how this would be done. Since then, according to Garcia, some lawyers have approached on behalf of their clients, but this has been individual.
“It was a guessing process,” she said. Garcia, who trains other lawyers on aspects of immigration law, said the now formal process will make it easier for her to help other lawyers navigate for their clients.
Stuart Applebaum, president of the Union of Retailers, Wholesalers and Department Stores, also welcomed the announcement.
“Immigrant workers are critical to the success of our economy, but they are among those who suffer the most from exploitation and abuse at work, and then suffer even more from intimidation and retaliation when they stand up for their rights,” Applebaum said. .
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