Immigration Study Finds Enforcement Has Undermined Workers' Rights

For Immediate Release

Labor Rights Groups
Contact: 

Devon Whitham, AFL-CIO, (202) 637-5018
Josh Goldstein, ARAW, (202) 822-2127 x 118
Tim Bradley, NELP, (314) 440-9936

Immigration Study Finds Enforcement Has Undermined Workers' Rights

Labor Groups Issue Blueprint to Restore Balance Between Immigration Enforcement and Labor Rights

WASHINGTON -  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, visit:
http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/dmdocuments/ARAWReports/icedout_repo...
.

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