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Attorney General Bonta Co-Leads Multistate Coalition in Support of Federal Effort to Prioritize Workplace Rights and Safety in Immigration Enforcement

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today co-led a coalition of 11 attorneys general — as well as several local agencies from across the country — in a letter in support of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) plan to change its worksite enforcement practices to support enforcement of wage protections, workplace safety, labor rights, and other employment laws and standards. In the letter, the coalition highlights several key recommendations to ensure that DHS’ immigration enforcement policies and practices facilitate the ability of state and local labor enforcement officials to advance fair labor standards.

“Keeping our workplaces safe takes all of us,” said Attorney General Bonta. “That’s why it’s critical that our nation’s immigration enforcement policies don’t play into the hands of abusive employers who undermine fair labor standards that protect all of our communities. It’s time to take the focus off punishing vulnerable workers and put it on those who would exploit them. I applaud the Biden Administration’s efforts to do just that. Together, we can stand up for vital labor rights and protect businesses that are doing things the right way.”

State and local labor enforcement agencies investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate thousands of work-related claims against employers who illegally suppress labor standards and intimidate workers from exercising their rights. The key role played by state and local entities in labor enforcement makes them indispensable partners in any effort to develop immigration enforcement protocols that prioritize the need to protect the rights of workers. Further, immigrants make up a significant proportion of the workforce in the coalition’s respective states and cities. Many vital industries depend on immigrant workers to meet their labor demands and provide critical services and goods to our communities. At the same time, immigrant workers, especially those who are unauthorized to work in the United States, are particularly susceptible to abusive and unlawful labor conditions, and are especially vulnerable when bringing these violations to light. As a result, workers can be reluctant or even decline to pursue a case or testify in a legal proceeding out of fear that their employer would respond by reporting them or their family members to immigration authorities.

In the letter, the coalition — in an effort to advance the mutual goals of ensuring workplaces across the nation comply with labor laws, protecting working conditions, and standing up for the rights and dignity of workers — urges DHS to consider a number of recommendations in its new effort, including to:

  • Create a deferred action program to proactively support workers cooperating with labor law enforcement agencies;
  • Make it explicit that state and local agencies that enforce workplace laws can certify S, T, and U Visas;
  • Limit enforcement based on potentially retaliatory tips from employers and inform the public that DHS’ hotline should not be used for such purposes;
  • Establish clear points of contact for state and local labor enforcement agencies to quickly address concerns and support effective communication with DHS;
  • Take steps to ensure immigrant workers and communities have access to information about their rights and protections;
  • Support private actions to facilitate the enforcement of labor laws, extending protection to immigrant victims of and witnesses to labor violations;
  • Bar immigration enforcement activities at courthouses or state or local labor departments; and
  • Provide state and local labor enforcement agencies with access to witnesses held in civil immigration detention.

In sending the letter, Attorney General Bonta is joined by the attorneys general of Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, the Seattle Offices of Labor Standards and Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, Chicago Office of Labor Standards, and the City of Philadelphia.

A copy of the letter is available here.