by AnaStacia Nicol Wright
In January 2023 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new guidance entitled “DHS Support of the Enforcement of Labor and Employment Laws,” A federal guidance is a statement written and published by a government agency of general applicability and future effect. They are typically issued to interpret or set forth a policy on statutory, regulatory and technical issues.
The recent DHS guidance details a deferred action plan for immigrant workers without legal status in the country. Deferred action is generally a way to postpone immigration deportation proceedings; most people have heard of “DACA,” which is a specific deferred action program for “child arrivals” — people who came to the US as kids. The recent DHS deferred action plan offers undocumented immigrant workers two years deferred action status and a two year work permit to individuals reporting or witnessing violations of labor and employment laws and assisting federal, state, or local labor and employment agencies in investigating, enforcing or prosecuting those allegations.
This protection was achieved due to pressure put on DHS by the Labor community to finally provide a remedy for immigrants who experience labor violations but can’t report them due to fear or threat of retaliation. The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law joined this fight last year and submitted a letter signed by a variety of political leaders and community advocates to DHS and the Department of Labor.
This year, they reached out to partner with Worksafe to create a series of training sessions for unions, lawyers and community advocates on this new avenue of temporary immigration relief for workers. The training addresses common areas of labor and employment law that immigrant workers may have seen violated, and how those violations can be used to attain deferred action via this new DHS program.
While this was a huge win, the DHS policy still falls short of standard whistleblower protections, and fails to provide a pathway to citizenship even for those people willing to come forward and assist the government in enforcing labor laws.