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Immigration Study Finds Enforcement Has Undermined Workers’ Rights
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  Labor Groups Issue Blueprint to Restore Balance Between Immigration Enforcement and Labor Rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 27, 2009

CONTACT:
Devon Whitham
AFL-CIO
(202) 637-5018

Josh Goldstein
American Rights at Work
(202) 822-2127 x118

Tim Bradley
National Employment Law Project
(314) 440-9936

WASHINGTON, DC—A comprehensive report issued today by the AFL-CIO, American Rights at Work and the National Employment Law Project finds that the federal government’s immigration enforcement in recent years – including a heavy reliance on raids and often inadequately trained enforcement agents – has severely undermined efforts to protect workers’ rights, to the detriment of immigrant and native-born workers alike. Drawing on several case studies from across the country, the report offers an unprecedented analysis of how the division between labor and immigration enforcement has eroded, and a blueprint for how the new administration and federal agencies can restore the balance. The authors, joined by a group of affected immigrant workers, presented their findings and recommendations today at a conference at AFL-CIO headquarters.

“The balance between worksite immigration enforcement and labor standards enforcement must be recalibrated,” argued co-author Rebecca Smith of the National Employment Law Project.  “ICE’s failure to uphold the firewall between enforcement of immigration laws and enforcement of labor laws has undercut both policies. Employers have been encouraged to violate wage and hour laws, OSHA requirements, and labor laws that protect collective bargaining rights.  All workers, both immigrant and native born, are suffering from depressed core labor standards as a result.”

ICED OUT: How Immigration Enforcement Has Interfered with Workers’ Rights builds on a growing body of research that points to a decline in workplace protections – and details how the  dramatic increase in immigration enforcement agents, arrests and prosecutions of immigrants in the U.S. has repeatedly taken precedence over labor law enforcement.  Drawing on case studies from across the country – including California, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Iowa, Rhode Island, Florida and Oregon – the report examines a series of alarming incidents between 2005 and 2008 in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, has:   

  1. taken enforcement action at the behest of employers, their surrogates, and other police agencies;
  2. conducted immigration-focused surveillance in the midst of labor disputes;
  3. conducted enforcement action with full knowledge of an ongoing labor dispute;
  4. engaged in subterfuge to carry out enforcement actions; and
  5. directly interfered with the administration of justice by arresting workers on the courthouse steps. 

In 2008, the report notes, ICE made 6,287 (5,184 administrative; 1,103 criminal) arrests for immigration offenses at workplaces, and only a small fraction of its arrests (2.1 percent) were of employers or employers’ agents. In August 2009, ICE reported having enrolled 63 agencies and trained 840 officers in a program to assist in identifying undocumented immigrants. However, the GAO recently criticized ICE for inadequate oversight and training under the program, and it has frequently been cited as contributing to racial profiling.

“Focusing on raids and other types of immigration enforcement without regard to enforcement of labor and employment laws does not address what is really sustaining illegal immigration—the virtually unfettered ability of employers to exploit immigrant workers economically,” said Ana Avendaño of the AFL-CIO organization, a co-author of the report.

In 1998, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the then-named U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now ICE) and the U.S. Department of Labor established a firewall between immigration and labor law enforcement, with the purpose of reducing economic incentives for hiring unauthorized workers, limiting abusive treatment of workers, and promoting jobs for legal, authorized U.S. workers.

The MOU provides guidelines for when cooperation between workplace and immigration enforcement agencies is appropriate, and when it is not. For example, when workers complain about wage and hour violations, the MOU stipulates that DOL should not conduct reviews of work authorizations or inquire about the immigration status of complainants.

“Simply put, there needs to be a better balance of communication between immigration and labor agencies, and it starts with heeding the policy that already exists, but is being ignored. There is a serious impact for the economy and for workers – both native and immigrant – when immigration enforcement overshadows the equally important goal of protecting labor rights,” co-author Julie Martinez Ortega of American Rights at Work said.

At today’s conference Josue Diaz, an immigrant worker who was recruited from a day laborer corner in New Orleans to work on reconstruction efforts in Texas after Hurricanes Ike, shared his personal story.  “We were forced to live in tents in an isolated labor camp at an abandoned oil refinery.  We were made to work in toxic conditions without safety equipment.  We were subjected racist and dehumanizing treatment…When we protested the discrimination and illegal treatment, our employer…called local police and ICE.   We were arrested immediately.  Instead of enforcing our labor rights against the company, the police and ICE tried to turn us into criminals.”

For a full copy of the report, and the authors’ specific recommendations for the Obama administration and several federal agencies on how to restore the proper balance between immigration and labor law enforcement, click here.

 
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American Rights at Work – http://www.americanrightsatwork.org – is the nation’s leading labor policy and advocacy organization dedicated to educating the American public about the barriers that workers face when they attempt to exercise their rights to freely and fairly form unions and engage in collective bargaining.