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Amendments that Matter: Labor and Employment Rights

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If you think the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Gang of 8 bill has been intense so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. As the SJC moves into Titles II and III of the bill—which cover everything from E-Verify to detention policy to family immigration to agricultural workers, not to mention the path to citizenship itself—we’re highlighting some of the major areas we expect to see addressed, and the amendments we’re particularly hopeful about or upset by within each one. That’s why we’re starting this “Amendments that Matter” blog series today. Below is a guest post from the National Employment Law Project, writing about labor and employment rights in the Gang of 8 immigration bill.

Also view our list of key amendments filed in the Senate Judiciary Committee to S. 744

Senator Blumenthal has filed an amendment that would codify vital current practices within and between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor which ensure that enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws do not undermine enforcement of our national’s labor and employment laws.   We support this amendment for the following reasons:

Presently, undocumented workers are covered under virtually all major labor and employment laws in the United States, though they are denied some remedies under the National Labor Relations Act.

  • That’s as it should be:  If we were to exclude undocumented workers, employers would have even more reason to hire and exploit them – it would be a free pass on labor abuses, and would drive standards down for all workers.

Unfortunately, in spite of this coverage, all too often, when workers try to enforce their workplace rights, unscrupulous employers try to thwart enforcement of labor and employment laws by threatening to call or actually calling immigration enforcement or the police.  Such practices allow employers to get away with breaking the law and makes workers afraid to report abuse in the workplace.

  • Even if Congress passes an immigration reform bill, these employer practices will likely continue.

Since 1996, the INS and now ICE have been guided by an internal policy intended to ensure that immigration authorities do not become unwitting pawns of unscrupulous employers who are retaliating against workers who report violations of Federal, State and Local labor and employment laws.

  • The policy, Operating Instruction 287.3(a) (OI), prevents immigration agents from continuing an investigation where it appears that the employer has attempted to use DHS to interfere with workers’ exercise of their employment and labor rights, unless they get approval from an ICE Director.

Moreover, in 2010, the DHS and Department of Labor signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to address their respective roles in the enforcement of immigration and labor law.

  • In the MOU, ICE agreed to refrain from engaging in civil enforcement activities at a worksite that is the subject of an existing DOL investigation, including enforcement of wage and hour and health and safety laws.
  • Given the frequency of wage and hour abuses in industries in which many immigrants work, the MOU attempts to ensure that workers feel free to come forward to report serious labor abuse without fear of deportation, and that the Department of Labor can improve labor practices for all  workers in these industries.