Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

New York bill would jail employers for discriminating over immigration status

February 7th, 2019 | ThinkProgress Staff

Employers in New York state could face a penalty of up to three months in prison and a $20,000 dollar fine if they make threats regarding a person’s immigration status, under a new bill proposed by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Undocumented workers face unique challenges in the workplace when it comes to filing grievances against management or speaking up about lost wages. The New York labor department claims it has investigated at least 30 cases over the last three years that involved threats to an employee’s immigration status. James’ legislation would make those threats illegal.

“New York state was built by immigrants and it has always stood proudly as a beacon of hope and opportunity no matter where you were born,” James said in a statement. “This legislation will represent a critical step toward protecting some of our most vulnerable workers by ensuring that they are not silenced or punished by threats related to their immigration status.”

The bill would amend a part of the New York Labor Law to refer employers who discriminate on the basis of immigration status to prosecutors, who could charge them with a misdemeanor and impose a fine up to $20,000 depending on the nature of the complaint and if the employer has a history of prior labor offenses.

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James’ announcement came one day after President Donald Trump reiterated in his State of the Union address calls to crack down on undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards,” he said. “Meanwhile, working class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration — reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.”

Trump’s namesake company, however, has previously employed undocumented workers itself, and two of them were present at the speech Tuesday night.

One of the guests was Victorina Morales, a former personal housekeeper for President Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey and Guatemalan immigrant. The other was Sandra Diaz, also a former golf club employee, who was born in Costa Rica and is now a legal resident.

Both women said they were happy to represent the millions of immigrants seeking a new life in the United States, and remind the president of those working for the Trump Organization.

“Very sad that he doesn’t change his position but happy that we’re there to tell the truth, to remind him of those who work for him,” Diaz said.

“I know it’s a long road and we have to fight,” Morales added. “There’s still a lot to do.”

The New York legislation was drafted partially in response to reports that Morales and other undocumented employees at Trump’s property in New Jersey had been threatened with having their immigration statuses exposed if they filed complaints against their supervisors. Morales said her supervisor frequently made demeaning remarks to undocumented employees, calling them “stupid illegal immigrants” with less intelligence than a dog.

In the wake of over-policing by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency — itself emboldened by Trump — state and local governments are finding legislative pathways to protect immigrant communities. New Jersey, for example, has instituted an Immigrant Trust Directive that would both protect immigrants in their interactions with state law enforcement while also building trust between police and migrant communities.

California, Oregon, and Illinois have issued similar directives in the past.

“Very sad that he doesn’t change his position but happy that we’re there to tell the truth, to remind him of those who work for him,” Diaz said.

“I know it’s a long road and we have to fight,” Morales added. “There’s still a lot to do.”

The New York legislation was drafted partially in response to reports that Morales and other undocumented employees at Trump’s property in New Jersey had been threatened with having their immigration statuses exposed if they filed complaints against their supervisors. Morales said her supervisor frequently made demeaning remarks to undocumented employees, calling them “stupid illegal immigrants” with less intelligence than a dog.

In the wake of over-policing by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency — itself emboldened by Trump — state and local governments are finding legislative pathways to protect immigrant communities. New Jersey, for example, has instituted an Immigrant Trust Directive that would both protect immigrants in their interactions with state law enforcement while also building trust between police and migrant communities.

California, Oregon, and Illinois have issued similar directives in the past.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

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