California Labor Commissioner Julie Su instructed employees last month at the state’s labor offices to remove Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents from their premises. The decision put a halt to ICE’s ability to learn more about illegal immigrants based on labor disputes reported to the labor board.
From here on out, the only time labor office employees are to comply with ICE is if the agent has a warrant, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday night.
“There is no doubt that allowing ICE to freely enter our office would have a substantial chilling effect on the willingness of workers to report violations and participate in our fight against wage theft,” Su told the Times.
Su decided to put this measure in place after numerous illegal immigrants complained about employers threatening to contact ICE and have the employee deported if a claim was filed against the employer.
According to the Sacramento Bee, Su claimed that “the presence of immigration officers in state offices could disrupt the enforcement of labor laws by discouraging immigrant workers from reporting employers who short them on wages or unfairly punish them in other ways.”
The fear of deportation has many illegal immigrants no longer wanting to pursue their cases, Su said.
“It’s our job to prevent retaliation, not assist in it,” Su told the Sacramento Bee. “Our fundamental job is to make sure that there are strong workplace protections in every workplace in California. In California, the long-standing policy has been that immigration status is irrelevant to protections of California labor laws.”
When office employees ask ICE agents to leave, they are instructed to take down the agents’ contact information and contact a department attorney or executive.
According to the Bee, labor employees were also given the following statement to read to ICE agents who are seeking information:
The Labor Commissioner’s Office is a state law enforcement agency that investigates and prosecutes labor law violations. Your presence is interfering with our ability to enforce state labor laws. It is the Labor Commissioner’s general policy not to permit such interference with our state law enforcement duties.
Would you please leave our office? The Labor Commissioner does not consent to your entry or search of any part of our office.
Su believes ICE officials have a sudden interest in labor disputes because employers have made them aware of employees’ immigration status.
“We should not enable unscrupulous employers who use immigration status as a vulnerability to retaliate unlawfully against a worker who is seeking our protection,” Su said.
The labor office currently has 18 locations throughout the state. About 35,000 employees filed back pay complaints against their employers. According to Su, industries that are heavily dependent on illegal immigrants, including garment manufacturing, car washing, and trucking, tend to be the most reported, the Times reported.
“The reason why employers pay such low wages is because workers are undocumented,” Mariela Martinez, the organizing director for the Garment Worker Center, told the Times. “It has a lot to do with the perception that they won’t speak out and they won’t file a claim.”
Since President Donald Trump took office, California has taken drastic steps in becoming a “sanctuary state,” meaning the state will not cooperate with federal immigration agents or federal immigration laws.
“The atmosphere of fear created by Trump and ICE’s expanded dragnet hurt all California workers,” Assemblyman David Chiu (D) said when he sponsored Assembly Bill 450, which would restrict immigration enforcement at workplaces. “We have to do everything we can to fight back, and it’s great to see our labor commissioner taking a stand against the small minority of unscrupulous employers who are illegally retaliating against their employees.”
So far this year, 58 illegal immigrants have filed complaints with the labor office saying their employer has threatened to report them to ICE, compared to 14 in 2016.