Washington, DC – On Thursday, December 7th, 2023 a group of 100 migrant workers unveiled a massive banner outside the White House to call for immediate renewals for the first workers in the country to obtain Deferred Action for Labor Enforcement.
Heroic immigrant whistleblowers are weeks away from losing their immigration status if the Biden Administration does not make good on its promise to protect workers who come forward to denounce workplace abuse, and to renew and expand these protections from deportation.
Rosario Ortiz, Jonas Reyes, and Samuel Castillo Dubon were the first undocumented workers under the Biden administration to publicly discuss immigration protections. They and their coworkers were successful in the labor dispute with Unforgettable Coatings Inc. Their employer agreed to pay workers more than $3.5 million. They were also the first in the country to apply for and receive immigration protections known informally as DALE (Deferred Action for Labor Enforcement), a deferred action process based on a labor enforcement interest under a policy that was quietly formalized in January 2023.
Jose Samuel Castillo Dubon (Worker leader, member Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center), who is facing the imminent termination of his status, still called for other workers to come forward, to fight for renewals, and to fight for their rights. “I worked for Unforgettable Coatings for ten years. We have to be able to report these abusive employers so they can’t continue to take advantage of us. We need to demand our rights be respected… We need these work permits to be renewed, and for this not to be an obstacle to other workers following the same path.”
Jonas Reyes (Worker leader, member Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center) told the story of Unforgettable Coatings, and the workers in Las Vegas who fought for protections and wages, “I worked at Unforgettable Coatings, where they committed workplace abuses against us. We won in court. We won protections from the Department of Homeland Security. But now our protections are going to expire. These renewals are important for us… We are outside the White House demanding renewals for the workers of Unforgettable Coatings.
Flor Ramirez, (DALE Navigator, Arise Chicago) spoke about the importance of DALE protections. “When we got DALE, it was a small light for so many immigrant workers that are in the shadows. We aren’t beasts of burden. We are workers that helped during the pandemic. We are workers who supported the economy. All we want is to step out of the shadows and report all of these abusive bosses. There are bosses that, when they see workers starting to organize their coworkers, they fire them. Why? Because it doesn’t suit them that other workers know their rights. It isn’t normal that we are treated this way. DALE helps us so that we can lift our voices and report abuse. Because the boss knows and uses our vulnerability against us.”
“We need Secretary Mayorkas to keep the promise he made during our meeting in Los Angeles. It’s impossible to think they might cancel our work authorization when we haven’t even received our stolen wages after being victims of wage theft,” commented Rosario Ortiz (Worker leader, member Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center), who met with Secretary Mayorkas in person in June 2022 to advocate for work authorization for workers who were participating in labor enforcement investigations. Those work permits were granted, but are now due to expire in early 2024.
At a time when the topic of US immigration is being utilized as a rightwing talking point and a bargaining chip in negotiations over funding for Ukraine and Israel, the voices and priorities defined by migrant workers themselves have been excluded from debate.
Workers rallied to call on the administration to stand with them in their fight for workplace rights and safety and follow through with his own policies to ensure immigrant workers who come forward are protected from deportation.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quietly announced that non-citizen workers who are victims of, or witnesses to, the violation of labor rights, can now access a streamlined and expedited deferred action request process to advance their workplace rights.
This new policy is a direct result of Deferred Action for Labor Enforcement (DALE) campaign, which since day one of the Biden Administration, has brought together immigrant workers, day laborer centers, and labor rights organizations calling for President Biden to use his executive authority to protect immigrant workers who have proved themselves essential during the pandemic, and who sustain entire sectors and industries such as construction, restaurants, and factories, with their labor.