On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced various executive actions on immigration. One of the changes to immigration enforcement made by the executive action announcement is the creation of an “Interagency Working Group” to better protect immigrant workers from unlawful employer retaliation.

While labor and employment laws protect all workers from workplace violations and exploitation, the reality is that immigrant workers are often afraid to assert their workplace rights or are prevented from doing so because of threats or retaliation related to their immigration status. The creation of the Interagency Working Group is not affected by the federal district court decision in Texas temporarily stopping the President’s administrative relief programs, known as DAPA and DACA.

The federal agencies that make up the Interagency Working Group include the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The working group’s stated primary objective is to develop policies and procedures that:

  1. Promote workers’ cooperation with federal agencies enforcing labor and employment laws without fear of retaliation;
  2. Ensure immigration enforcement is not used to undermine worker protection laws or to prevent workers from exercising their workplace rights; and,
  3. Ensure the consistent enforcement of federal, labor, and immigration laws.

The Interagency Working Group hosted its first meeting with representatives of labor and worker and immigrant rights advocates on January 21, 2015. Representatives of each of the federal agencies (DHS, DOL, DOJ, EEOC and NLRB) were present at the meeting. The goal of the stakeholder meeting was for the federal agencies to hear from labor and worker advocates about ways to improve worker protections, including helping facilitate the ability to obtain certifications for U visas based on workplace violations and the possibility of obtaining immigration relief or work authorization for worker witnesses that have pending workplace claims.

On May 8, 2015, the Interagency Working Group released its Six-Month Action Plan designed to ensure progress towards achieving its goals. Within six months (approximately November 2015), the Interagency Working Group plans to initiate or complete the following steps:

  • Establish regular meetings to coordinate the implementation of the Action Plan;
  • Produce easily accessible handbook or online resources on various topics, including relevant agreements between member departments and agencies, guidance on the intersection between immigration and labor law enforcement, guidance for accessing temporary or permanent immigration benefits that may be available as a result of workplace violations, guidance for employers explaining their obligations to workers during workplace disputes, and instructions on ways the public can engage the Interagency Working Group and its members with questions;
  • Identify existing procedures and explore developing new agreements to ensure the member departments and agencies do not conflict in enforcing labor and immigration laws;
  • Utilize public engagement to maintain a robust dialogue with stakeholders, including workers, unions, worker representatives and advocates, and employers as appropriate;
  • Engage other federal or state agencies and officials as necessary to achieve the Interagency Working Group’s goals and objectives.

For additional information about the Interagency Working Group, please visit the Department of Labor’s website at Stay tuned for more developments!

By Alejandro Delgado | June 12, 2015

Legal Developments