According to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, complaints over immigration-related retaliation threats surged last year in California. Workers had filed 94 immigration-related retaliation claims with the office through Dec. 22, which is up from 20 claims in 2016 and seven claims in 2015. The cases include instances in which employers allegedly threatened to report workers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), after they raised issues over working conditions that includes wage theft. There are also allegations that include employers demanding different documents than those required by federal immigration law or refusing to honor documents that appear genuine. Labor Commissioner Julie Su stated,
What employers seek to do by making the threat is force the employee to back off. It’s to intimidate them into silence and also have a chilling effect on the rest of the workplace.
Immigrant advocates believe that workers who are here illegally are less likely to report workplace violations, due to the current political climate. Mar Martinez, organizing coordinator for the Garment Worker Center in downtown Los Angeles, has also noticed more workers who say employers are holding the employees’ immigration status over their heads. However, under federal and state law, workers are protected by minimum wage and other workplace laws regardless of immigration status. Labor Commissioner Julie Su and immigrant advocates said the rise in claims could be attributed to employers feeling more empowered to wield ICE as a weapon given an increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric and enforcement by ICE. The deportation threats may continue to be an issue until a solution is figured out that will make employers refrain from using deportation as a threat to solve a dispute.