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Reintroduced bill aimed at protecting immigrant workers from retaliation

Photo: Darwel/iStockphoto

Washington — Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) has reintroduced legislation that would provide temporary protection from deportation to immigrant workers who are victims of, or witnesses to, unsafe working conditions and other labor rights violations.

The Protecting Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation Act (H.R. 1828) would expand U nonimmigrant status visa eligibility for workers who are victims of serious labor violations; cooperate with state, local or federal worker protection agencies; and “have suffered substantial abuse or harm related to the workplace claim or would face extreme hardship upon removal,” a March 28 press release from Chu’s office states. 

The bill would let law enforcement, worker protection agencies or labor officials ask the Department of Homeland Security to provide temporary lawful status with employment authorization to workers who have filed a workplace claim or are material witnesses. DHS would be required to ensure “workers arrested or detained are not deported before the appropriate labor agency is notified and has a chance to interview the workers.”

Additionally, the bill would provide grounds for a stay of removal in immigration proceedings for three years if a worker is pursuing a workplace claim with a worker protection agency or in court. It also would remove the cap on U visas. Chu’s office notes that a 10,000-per-year cap on the visas has created a backlog of nearly 240,000 applications.

In January, DHS announced that immigrant workers who are victims of labor rights violations can access a streamlined and expedited temporary relief process, if they cooperate with investigations.

“However, this process provides only temporary protection, with no path to permanent status, and can be rescinded via future Executive Order,” Chu says in the release. “The POWER Act would deliver definitive, permanent protection and ensure our labor laws are consistently enforced.”

She adds: “Before DHS’s announcement, employers knew immigrant workers may be too afraid to report labor abuses to the appropriate authorities or provide relevant evidence or testimony to labor agencies for ongoing investigations. The POWER Act would build on and codify DHS’s new policy so that we can permanently put an end to threats to immigrant workers and improve workplace conditions for all Americans.”

OSHA announced in February that it would issue certifications in support of T and U nonimmigrant status visas, a move the agency contends will aid in some workplace safety investigations. T visas are for victims of human trafficking.

Chu has sponsored similar bills in four other sessions of Congress, most recently in November 2019. None of those bills had made it out of subcommittees. With Republicans in control of the House, this bill is likely to meet a similar fate.

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