The Obama administration this week is holding a series of meetings around the country aimed at ensuring that all workers — which could include illegal immigrants — are aware of their rights while working in the United States.
Some of these meetings will take place with officials from the consulate offices of El Salvador and Guatemala, two countries that are a source of thousands of illegal immigrant adults and children that have caused a humanitarian crisis at the southern U.S. border.
Republicans have said the Obama administration has encouraged illegal immigration, in particular by promoting federal benefits and trying to ease deportation rules.
The effort to promote worker rights is part of Labor Rights Week; this year’s theme for the week is “we all have workplace rights.”
The Department of Labor did not say explicitly that it’s trying to help illegal immigrants, but appeared to indicate that it is fine with promoting worker rights to undocumented workers in the country. For example, the Department of Labor said this week that it would celebrate the contributions of all workers, “regardless of immigration status.”
It also stressed the need to protect “foreign-born, at-risk workers,” and indicated a focus on people working in low-wage jobs. Those who favor immigration reform have said illegal immigrants can often be abused by companies who pay less than the minimum wage.
“Workers who are new to this country and speak little or no English may not know the rights and protections they’re afforded under the law,” Labor said. “They often work in low-wage sectors of our economy where there’s a higher likelihood of wage and other labor law violations.”
“It’s especially important that we reach these workers and inform them of their rights, such as the right to be paid at least the federal minimum wage as guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act,” the Department added.
According to the department, Labor Rights Week is an annual attempt to raise awareness about the rights of employees, and responsibilities of companies, under U.S. labor laws. That effort involves a collaboration between the Obama administration and the embassies of foreign countries and their consulate offices.
Labor said its consular partnership program mostly consists of agreements with Mexico, but has expanded to include nine Latin American countries, including the three Central American sources of huge immigrant waves this year — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
This week in an around New York, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will meet with officials from the Consulates of El Salvador and Guatemala, to discuss worker rights. Officials will also meet with the Guatemalan consulate in Florida this week.
Elsewhere around the country, federal officials will hold several meetings with several Mexican consulate offices. One of these meetings in Philadelphia is called “Work Rights of Vulnerable Groups.”
Labor said cooperation with foreign embassies on worker rights has been taking place since 2004. Labor points out that in Spanish, the theme of this year’s Labor Rights Week is, “Todos tenets derechos en el trabajo.”