By Jorge Torres, Organizer & National Campaign Strategist at NDLON
New video shows the Homeland Security Secretary boasting that he “shifted the paradigm in worksite enforcement.” But if a paradigm shifts and nobody hears about it, has it really shifted?
What is it going to take for President Biden and his administration to stand behind a potentially game-changing immigration policy that Secretary Mayorkas claims to be very proud of?
They’ll brag about it to small, immigrant-friendly audiences. But why not share it with the world? And why not share it with people who will actually benefit from it?
The new policy allows undocumented immigrants to file claims against abusive employers and receive deferred action, which grants them immunity from deportation and the ability to work.
That’s right. Immigrant workers who defend their workplace rights will potentially be given the same status as DACA recipients.
That’s potentially a huge development. It could level the playing field in entire industries now plagued by wage theft, overtime violations, unsafe work conditions, anti-union activity, and other abuses. Every U.S. worker, immigrant or not, stands to benefit. Immigrants and advocates have spent years pushing for this change, and this year, the Biden White House finally did it. Quietly.
Unlike DACA which was announced in the Rose Garden, the news of this policy came by press release from the Homeland Security Department on a Friday afternoon more than two months ago. The general silence since then has been deafening — and frankly infuriating.
Last week, at a Fordham Law School forum honoring the legacy of the great Judge Katzman, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas attempted to shift focus on criticism of his tenure. He asked why his agency doesn’t get praised for the things they are doing well. He cited as his top accomplishment the recent policy offering whistleblower protections to workers.
“We shifted the paradigm in worksite enforcement,” he said. Instead of workplace raids and mass arrests of workers, “we will focus our efforts on the employers who exploit the undocumented by reason of their vulnerability.”
But it’s one thing to tell this to a room of immigration lawyers and advocates at a private university forum. It’s another to stand behind the policy in public, and to give it the wide attention and exposure it needs, so that workers are informed and emboldened to take advantage of it.
The new rule could help hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — of workers to finally stand up to crooked employers. The crippling burden of fear that pervades immigrant-dominated industries and workplaces could finally be lifted. The incentive to exploit immigrant work by predatory employers could be removed. US immigration and labor policy could finally be on a path to reconciliation.
But a pro-worker protocol that workers don’t know about or use isn’t pro-worker at all. A worthwhile policy that nobody has heard of is worthless.
I was in Chicago last week sharing news of the policy with immigrant workers. But people could barely believe it. We organizers can get the word out in our communities — and we are doing just that. But none of us has the presidential pulpit. None of us can stand in the Rose Garden and say a few words that the entire world will hear.
President Biden can. He needs to speak up. He needs to own his new policy and proclaim it, loudly, proudly and often.
He needs to say it loud enough for the workers on street corners, farm fields, construction sites and restaurant kitchens to hear it. He needs to show courage that those immigrant workers show every day, like the hundreds who risked arrest on the Manhattan Bridge last week to speak up, loudly and proudly, in protest of injustice.
Come on, Mr. President. As you yourself might say, maybe citing your mother’s wisdom: Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Don’t mumble. You’ve got something to say. Some good news. So let’s hear it!