Immigration enforcement agents have been banned from labor offices amid fears undocumented migrants are being put off pursuing wages owed to them.
And state workers have been ordered not to reveal workers’ whereabouts as lawyers and campaigners have warned migrants could have reason to fear attending labor dispute hearings under Donald Trump’s presidency.
Multiple reported cases of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents appearing at immigrants’ hearings prompted California Labor Commissioner Julie Su to release a memo to employees instructing them to refuse immigration agents entry to labor commission offices or to provide information on the location of workers.
A spokeswoman for ICE, Virginia Kice, said in an email that the agency had guidelines to prevent employees from becoming “involved in labor disputes.” She disputed the assertion that ICE agents had appeared at labor commission offices seeking particular people, writing that “ICE has canvassed its enforcement personnel in the greater Los Angeles area and has obtained no information to corroborate those claims.”
But the reports were credible enough to prod Ms Su into action, and now advocates worry the fallout could mean more exploitation of vulnerable workers.
California law already prohibits employers from using employees’ immigration status to retaliate in labor disputes. In keeping with California politicians’ backlash against the Trump administration’s hardline immigration stance, labor officials have vowed to maintain those safeguards.
“Just because the federal administration has changed, our laws and policies have not,” California Labor and Workforce Development Agency Secretary David Lanier said earlier this year. “We will not tolerate the use of immigration status as a tool of retaliation against workers who are pursuing their rights under California law.
But the California Labor Commission has seen a spike in immigration-related cases of employers retaliating against workers, from 14 last year to 58 already in 2017. And with the appearance of ICE agents at hearings spurring official action, attorneys who work on labor conflicts warned that undocumented immigrants will be more likely to forfeit money they’re owed than seek redress if they perceive bringing a labor case could get them deported.
“There’s huge concern among the advocates about the specter of ICE showing up at the labor commission,” Christopher Ho, a staff attorney for the organization Legal Aid…