The Department of Homeland Security took a positive step by clarifying and streamlining the process to protect migrant workers in labor disputes

Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a streamlined process that provides clarity on how migrant workers who are victims of, and witnesses to, labor and employment violations can come forward to request temporary protections, including protection from deportation through deferred action and employment authorization. This is a positive step that will protect the rights of workers to be treated and paid fairly and to organize and join unions, and allow them to assist labor standards enforcement agencies with their investigations.

EPI has joined hundreds of other immigrant and worker rights organizations to call on DHS to clarify the process for how migrant workers engaged in labor disputes can request status protections. This will help workers and whistleblowers overcome their very rational fears about coming forward to report labor and workplace violations. EPI has also called for DHS to grant deferred action and parole to migrant workers in labor disputes with more frequency and regularity across a broad range of disputes, and in response to a broad swath of labor and workplace violations. This action by DHS deserves praise, and I look forward to its swift implementation.

By using prosecutorial discretion to protect migrant workers involved in labor disputes through the issuance of temporary grants of deferred action, DHS will help ensure that migrant workers are able to pursue claims against employers without the threat of retaliation and deportation. DHS’s legal authority to do this on a case-by-case basis is well-founded, as well as to provide workers with employment authorization so they can support themselves financially while their claims are investigated and resolved. Employment authorization could also allow workers to be eligible for back pay or reinstatement as the result of an enforcement action or a court proceeding. 

Given the current budget constraints of federal labor standards enforcement agencies—which are funded at just one-twelfth the rate of immigration enforcement agencies—the use of deferred action in this manner will encourage workers and whistleblowers to speak out without fear and will act as a force multiplier for underfunded and understaffed labor enforcement agencies, thereby assisting them in their mission to protect worker rights and hold lawbreaking employers accountable. This will make workplaces safer for all workers.