The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will cease workplace sting operations as part of an effort to shift its enforcement efforts to focus on “unscrupulous employers who exploit the vulnerability of undocumented workers.”
A Tuesday memo from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasTop officials turn over Twitter accounts to 'share the mic' with Black cybersecurity experts Federal officers detail abuse described by asylum seekers Senate Republicans raise concerns about TSA cyber directives for rail, aviation MORE more broadly seeks to provide protection to undocumented workers that may wish to file complaints against their employer, directing the agency to shield workers from deportation while their claims are investigated.
The memo highlights workplace violations ranging from the payment of substandard wages to unsafe working conditions, facilitating human trafficking and child exploitation. But Mayorkas also argued that DHS investigations often punished workers more than the companies themselves.
“The deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country's unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers,” Mayorkas wrote.
“These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations,” he added.
The shift in focus earned praise from the National Immigration Law Center.
“This move will also ensure those immigrants working in schools, factories, meatpacking plants, hospitals, construction sites, and other essential industries can do their jobs safely and speak out against unjust treatment without fearing employer intimidation, arrest, or deportation,” Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the group, said in a statement.
The DHS memo goes on to order agencies to look for ways to “alleviate or mitigate the fear” undocumented workers may experience in reporting their employers, including access to legal pathways to remain in the U.S., blocking them from deportation or “paroling” them into the U.S. if they don’t otherwise meet U.S. immigration law requirements.
It also points to problems with the E-Verify system, which employers use to check the immigration status of workers. Just a handful of states require its use — potentially leaving employers who don’t use the system able to wield the threat of doing so as a way to silence disgruntled workers.
Mayorkas’s memo tasks agency leaders with developing policies to “ensure that E-Verify is not manipulated to suppress unauthorized workers from, or to punish unauthorized workers for, reporting unlawful labor practices.”