Workers rights groups celebrate new U.S. Labor guidelines that protect undocumented workers

“This opens the door for undocumented workers to be able to fight for the right to be respected in the workplace.”

SHARE Workers rights groups celebrate new U.S. Labor guidelines that protect undocumented workers
Sandra Fernandez (center), a member of ARISE Chicago, holds a sign Wednesday in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Sandra Fernandez (center), a member of ARISE Chicago, holds a sign Wednesday in the Pilsen neighborhood, where labor rights organizations commended new guidance by the Department of Labor regarding immigrant workers who are facing a labor dispute. Organizers say the guidance creates “possible pathways for immigrant workers to obtain ‘deferred action’ in the cases of labor disputes.”

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A slew of workers rights groups celebrated Wednesday afternoon in Pilsen after the U.S. Department of Labor announced new guidelines that would protect undocumented workers who file labor complaints against their employers from deportation.

In an announcement last week, the labor department provided guidelines for how undocumented workers can receive immigration-related protection if they file complaints.

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For the department to be able to “to carry out the laws its enforces, workers must feel free to participate in its investigations and proceedings without fear of retaliation or consequences related to their immigration status,” the agency said in a statement.

Jose Frausto, of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, said the announcement was an acknowledgement that a fear of being deported has kept undocumented immigrants from speaking up about abuses and left them vulnerable to further abuse.

Jose Frausto of the Chicago Workers Collaborative.

Jose Frausto, manager of leadership and advocacy at the Chicago Workers Collaborative, on Wednesday in Pilsen.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“Workers that never wanted to come forward because they were afraid can [now] come out of the shadows,” Frausto said. “This opens the door for undocumented workers to be able to fight for the right to be respected in the workplace.”

The guidelines will help prevent workplace abuses that are common around Chicago, including sexual harassment and wage theft, Frausto said.

Arise Chicago organizer Jorge Mújica compared the announcement to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy (DACA), which allows some undocumented immigrants to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit.

Mújica reminded workers that whatever protection the agency’s statement affords is only open to workers that speak up.

“What’s protected is raising hell for employers,” he said.

Karen Alvarez, of Warehouse Workers for Justice, cited the death of Adewale Ogunyemi, who was fatally injured last summer while working for Rich Products, a frozen pizza manufacturer in suburban Crest Hill, the Joliet Herald-News reported. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration later fined Rich Products more than $145,000 for safety violations found during inspections.

Adewale Ogunyemi, 42, and his co-workers “were afraid to speak up about conditions in the workplace,” Alvarez claimed, and said the labor department’s new guidance would help prevent such deaths.

Ugo Okere, policy director at Raise the Floor, on Wednesday in Pilsen.

Ugo Okere, policy director at Raise the Floor, on Wednesday in Pilsen.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Others at the rally cautioned that whatever protections the new guidelines offered could be temporary.

“The thing is that they’re not law, the Department of Homeland Security could still take action,” Ugo Okere, of Raise the Floor, told the Sun-Times.

Okere called on Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to publicly agree to respect the labor department’s guidelines.

Okere and the others said that workers who want to file complaints against their employer and are seeking immigration-related protections should continue to reach out to Chicago Workers Collective organizations.

“We have your back on the picket lines, we have your back in the court room,” Okere said.

Sandra Fernandez’s daughter stands behind a sign on Wednesday in Pilsen.

Sandra Fernandez’s daughter stands behind a sign on Wednesday in Pilsen.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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