Many foreign-born nationals live with the constant worry of someone questioning their immigration status, threatening to deport them or even contacting the authorities to detain them. As it turns out, this fear may be warranted. In the past two years, the number of immigrants whose employers have threatened to have them deported has risen dramatically.
California’s Labor Commissioner’s Office states that in 2015, there were only seven formal complaints regarding immigration-related threats from employers. By 2016, however, that number had risen to 20. Last year, there were 94 complaints of immigration-related retaliation filed in the state of California.
Retaliation against immigrants
Many of the cases are examples employers retaliating against workers who questioned unjust working conditions. If a worker expressed concern over issues like wage theft, sick leave or an unsafe work environment, their employer would threaten to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to have the worker deported. Some bosses made multiple threats to multiple workers over the course of several months. Frequently, employers would refuse to honor immigration papers that were in fact genuine.
In one case, a man was hired to complete a home improvement project. By the end of the project, he still hadn’t been paid. When he confronted his boss, the employer allegedly refused to pay him, called him a racial slur and threatened to report the man to I.C.E.
In 2014, California passed a law that prohibited employers from retaliating against workers by threatening their immigration status. It is possible that as more migrant workers became familiar with this law, more felt comfortable reporting their experiences. Another reason may be the increasing hostility and mistrust toward the immigrant community from many U.S. nationals. According to California’s Labor Commissioner as well as immigration advocates, widespread anti-immigrant rhetoric has made many employers feel emboldened to invoke I.C.E. as a threat.
Protecting immigrant workers’ rights
Although these threats can be frightening, they are not always legally sound. Undocumented and documented workers alike do have legal recourse. An immigration attorney can assist workers whose immigration status has been threatened by an employer.