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It has become easier for illegal immigrants to obtain work permits in the United States


Alina Prikhodko

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The Department of Homeland Security has discretion to exempt from deportation workers who are victims or witnesses of labor law violations. According to The City, hundreds of New York workers have already received documents allowing them to get a job on the job.

Six years ago, construction worker Jose Moncada broke his wrist while using a jackhammer while demolishing buildings in Manhattan and received unusual instructions from his foreman, who promised that his medical bills would be covered. First, go to the hospital by taxi, not by ambulance. And the second thing was to tell the doctors that he injured himself in the park,” he recalls.

While working for the same demolition company, a welder named Alejo was severely injured when sparks hit his eye, close to his retina. His foreman paid for a taxi to the hospital, instructed him not to reveal that he was injured on the job, and told him the company, Caledonia Carting Services, would pay his medical bills.

Both men have spoken out about their experiences to law enforcement authorities investigating fraud and worker harassment by Alba Services Inc, which employs workers supplied by Caledonia Carting. In exchange, both received working papers after more than a decade in the United States without documents.

Rights protection

Undocumented workers entering the construction industry are often at increased risk operation, serious injury or death on the job. These two men received work permits thanks to a new federal program, which allows immigrants involved in law enforcement investigations for workplace violations to apply for protection from deportation.

On the subject: The New York City Council passed the Immigrant Labor Bill of Rights, guaranteeing fair wages and protections for immigrants.

This protection, known as deferment, also allows them to apply for a legal work permit, which helps get workers out of the underground economy where exploitation and danger are common and the threat of deportation keeps workers in line. The deferment lasts up to two years, and it also allows people to apply for a Social Security number, which opens the door to home equity loans and credit cards.

The number of people in New York State benefiting from this policy is unknown, but on January 17 Ministry of Homeland Security announced that over the past year, more than 1000 workers across the country have received benefits under the policy.

Results and risks

In announcing the new procedure a year ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it had “a long history of reviewing requests” on a case-by-case basis to protect workers who cooperate with law enforcement from deportation.

But now the process for reviewing requests has been “simplified and sped up” and work permits have been added. Undocumented immigrants who are involved in workplace investigations may file a deferment request with USCIS or have an attorney file one on their behalf.

Labor agencies and law enforcement agencies in New York and states with immigrant-friendly economies, including California and Massachusetts, quickly began using the policy.
The new process has been praised by immigrant worker advocates and New York City leaders, who see it as a chance for workers who were previously hesitant to speak out about their experiences.

Certain risks

However, for eligible workers, obtaining protected legal status is not without risk. This discretionary measure lasts for a maximum of two years, and while it can be extended, the federal government reserves the right to revoke the status at any time. In 2020, former President Donald Trump tried to get the Supreme Court to overturn a similar Obama policy granting status to migrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, and reportedly intends to try again if he is elected in November.

Moncada, Alejo and three other former co-workers were able to apply for a deferment with the help of their union, Laborers Local 79, which has been tracking complaints against Alba Services and related companies for several years. “We pride ourselves on helping people navigate the deferment and work authorization process,” said Miki Prochaski, union manager. “Protecting the rights of undocumented workers helps protect the rights of all workers.”

The New York State Department of Labor has so far issued 41 notices of protection to 110 workers, and the state attorney general has issued letters seeking protection to hundreds of other workers, the report said. Earlier this month Compensation Council workers state announced it will join forces with the federal government to help workers obtain protection from deportation.

Know your rights

But some undocumented worker advocates say the policy's impact in New York so far, more than a year after it was enacted, has been limited. Even though hundreds of workers across the state have received support from law enforcement to file claims, potentially thousands who might be eligible have not filed claims.

Groups advocating for easier claims say government agencies have done little to advertise the option, leaving workers to take matters into their own hands. On Jan. 26, more than two dozen members of Congress, including several from New York, asked the Department of Health for more information about how the agency is moving forward with the program.

Nadia Marin-Molina, co-executive director of the National Network for the Organization of Temporary Workers (National Day Laborer Organizing Network), began a nationwide “Know Your Rights” tour dedicated to the new policy. As part of the DALE campaign (Deferred Action for Labor Enforcement) also produced a brochure for workers, which describes the nature of the program and the rights of migrant workers.


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