Washington The Biden administration announced an expedited immigration process on Friday that will allow immigrants abused in the workplace or involved in labor investigations to apply for deportation protection and work permits.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has outlined a streamlined process for immigrants without legal status who are victims or witnesses of labor exploitation to apply for deferred action, a form of immigration relief that allows federal officials to protect certain individuals from deportation.
DHS officials said the policy would encourage exploited workers to disclose labor law violations and participate in workplace investigations in ways they would otherwise be afraid to engage due to their lack of legal immigration status and the threat of deportation.
In a Friday statement, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the process would protect working conditions, the U.S. labor market and “the dignity of the workers who drive our economy.”
“Unscrupulous employers who prey on the vulnerability of non-citizen workers harm all workers and put companies that follow the rules at a disadvantage” The mayor added. “We will hold these predatory actors accountable by encouraging all employees to assert their rights, report violations they have experienced or observed, and cooperate with labor standards investigations.”
The lawsuit announced on Friday follows fromMayors issued in October 2021 to govern work-related immigration enforcement. Through the memo, Mayorkas ended mass immigration arrests at workplaces, saying officials should focus on prosecuting exploitative employers who, he noted, often pay workers below-standard wages, subject them to unsafe working conditions and facilitate human trafficking and child exploitation.
To be eligible for deferrals, immigrants will be required to include letters of recommendation from federal, state or local agencies that enforce labor laws and investigate alleged labor law violations on their US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) applications.
If the USCIS determines that applicants are eligible for a deferral, it will generally grant them deportation relief for two years, as well as an accompanying work permit if required.
Immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers welcomed Friday’s announcement, saying it would protect vulnerable workers.
“Too often, employers threaten to deport or otherwise retaliate against immigrant workers who raise the alarm about illegal working conditions, which undermines the working conditions and wages of all U.S. workers,” Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu said in a statement.
DHS has a long history of granting deferred action to immigrants whose deportation cases are of low priority, arguing that the policy is part of its inherent prosecutorial discretion as a law enforcement agency with limited resources.
Thefor unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the US as children – a population referred to as “DREAMers” – is perhaps the best known deferral policy in use today.
While the Trump administration has sought to end DACA and other policies of deferred action, the Biden administration hasprotect several groups from deportation, including victims of serious crimes and abandoned, neglected, or abused immigrant youth who are pending review by USCIS.