Justice, labor board sign agreement to fight immigrant discrimination

"It's a good idea that the agencies share information because laypersons, and particularly immigrant workers who may not feel totally at home in the American legal system for many reasons, may not know what's a claim under which statute," said Christopher Ho, a senior staff attorney and head of the immigration program at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center.

Federal law prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing, recruitment and other practices based on whether or not a person is a citizen or their national origin. The law also prevents discrimination in the use of employment eligibility verification forms and systems.

But different agencies have authority over different areas of the law, so the Justice Department may not be able to step in to help immigrant workers who feel their right to unionize is being infringed, for instance.

“Employers cannot avoid liability under the law just because an employee has turned to the wrong agency or is unaware of additional protections available under a different law," the Justice Department's deputy assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, Gregory Friel, said in a statement.

Ho added, "We see these sorts of issues sort of tied together as a practical matter in the real world a lot."

The agreement does not seem to give the agencies an obligation to look into each other's referrals, but should foster cooperation between the agencies and minimize redundant efforts, according to the memorandum.