Positive Changes for U.S. Citizen and Migrant Workers
As Congress builds an immigration system to ensure the supply of labor meets national demands, future immigration laws must recognize the contributions migrants make to our communities and improve protections for the safety, dignity, and fair treatment of every worker. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has long advocated for ample protections in our immigration system for U.S. citizen and migrant workers.
LIRS therefore applauds the Senate for passing S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act on June 27, 2013. The bipartisan bill, passed by a vote of 68-32, contains the following improvements for workers in the United States:
- Undocumented agricultural workers and their dependents would be eligible for an expedited roadmap to citizenship with a “blue card.” Blue card holders who continue to work in agriculture would be eligible to become lawful permanent residents in 5-8 years, at which point they could work in any occupation.
- Victims of serious workplace abuse, exploitation, or retaliation would be eligible for U visas, which provide immigration status to migrant survivors of crime who assist law enforcement.
- Employers would be prohibited from withholding back pay or certain other damages because of a worker’s immigration status. Employers required to maintain employment records would have to provide such records to employees upon request.
- Workers employed by registered employers in low-tech fields facing labor shortages would be eligible for a “W visa”. This program would be subject to an annual cap determined by the newly-created Bureau of Immigrant and Labor Market Research. The W visa permits workers to change to another registered job for another registered employer, allows workers’ spouses and children to join them and lawfully work, and grants W visa holders the ability to self-petition for lawful permanent residency through a new merit-based immigration system.
- Agricultural guest-workers would be eligible for temporary work visas subject to caps designed to protect U.S. workers. These guest-workers would receive worker’s compensation, employer-provided housing, fair wages, and the ability to transfer to certain other agricultural employers.
S. 744 mandates that employers begin using a federal government verification system to confirm new hires are authorized to work. S. 744 includes the following protections for workers screened under this system:
- U.S. citizens and work-authorized immigrants may file an administrative appeal to contest a rejection or “non-confirmation” by the system. If necessary, individuals are able to appeal this decision through the courts. Workers are compensated with any lost wages, reasonable costs, and attorneys’ fees if non-confirmation was due to employer or government error.
- Establishes regular assessments of the system, complaint and investigation mechanisms, and privacy and information security protections. Expands anti-discriminatory provisions in the current immigration laws to include discriminatory or unlawful use of electronic verification.