Workplace Immigration Enforcement Trampled On Workers' Rights, Report Says

Workplace raids by immigration authorities have “severely interfered with the protection of labor rights for immigrant workers,” according to a new report released Tuesday by labor organizations.

A July 27, 2008, pro-immigration reform march in Postville, Iowa, in support of workers at Agriproccessors plant - Photo: Prairie Robin/Flickr

A July 27, 2008, pro-immigration reform march in Postville, Iowa, in support of workers at Agriproccessors plant. (Photo: Prairie Robin/Flickr)

“The single-minded focus on immigration enforcement without regard to violations of workplace laws has enabled employers with rampant labor and employment violations to profit by employing workers who are terrified to complain about substandard wages, unsafe conditions, and lack of benefits, or to demand their right to bargain collectively,” reads the report prepared by the National Employment Law Project, the AFL-CIO, and the American Rights at Work Education Fund (click here for pdf).

The report comes as the Obama administration has continued many of the Bush-era enforcement policies, although work-site raids have been scaled back since the Democrats took over in January. Nevertheless, local police forces with immigration enforcement powers –like Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose federal contract was scaled back— had until recently continued to conduct these operations.

The labor groups said immigration enforcement must be balanced with enforcement of labor standards, so that the “perverse economic incentives” that lead to the employment of undocumented immigrants are removed and workers’ rights are protected.

The opposite has happened, according to the document.

“This report shows that in too many instances, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worksite raids have prevented meaningful enforcement of labor standards for all workers.

“ICE actions have created incentives for shady employers to continue hiring and abusing undocumented workers, since the deportation of their employees may excuse those employers from complying with labor laws.”

Work-site raids became common during the Bush administration, especially in rural areas where poultry and meat processing plants and other manufacturing facilities were popular targets for ICE. One particularly controversial raid took place in May 2007 at a plant in Postville, Iowa, which became a poster child for the persecution of immigrant workers.

The scenes of massive raids where dozens or hundreds of workers were lined up to be processed –and sometimes, speedily deported– have not been repeated under President Obama. But the administration has not sworn off raids either. It seems to prefer a different approach that forces companies to prove they haven’t hired people who are not authorized to work in the U.S. — leading to hundreds of layoffs at some companies.

Tuesday’s report says ICE has conducted operations even at companies “where workplace disputes exist.”

“The government has trampled on the labor rights of workers,” it adds.

The report’s authors recommend that the Obama administration create a task force to oversee new policies to ensure a balance between labor rights and immigration enforcement and that ICE take measure to not interfere when there are labor disputes.

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