Do you remember last month, when a terrible shooting occurred at a farm in Half Moon Bay, California? The shooting took place at a farm where most, if not all, of the workers were immigrants, and many of them were undocumented. In the wake of the investigation into the shooting, the living and working conditions of the farmworkers was shown to be deplorable.
These workers are not just in California. In Virginia over 6,000 immigrant farm workers come each year to harvest crops.
With a renewed focus on just how inadequate the environments of undocumented workers can be, and what an unfair advantage employers have over them, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced an updated and enhanced process for workers to request deferred action for themselves and investigations into their employers.
Often undocumented workers receive threats of immigration-related retaliation from exploitative employers who lead workers into believing they have no rights in the United States. However, in the U.S. every person has a right to safe and fair working conditions, regardless of immigration status. DHS's newly announced process renews its commitment to investigations of workplace violations, and assists workers in being able to report violations of law by employers. The hope of DHS is that by providing a new streamlined online location for exploited workers to request deferred action, they will not be fearful of participating in workplace investigations by DHS.
What is Deferred Action?
According to DHS, “Deferred action is a form of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action (deportation) against a noncitizen for a certain period of time. Although deferred action does not confer lawful status or excuse any past or future periods of unlawful presence, a noncitizen granted deferred action is considered lawfully present in the United States for certain limited purposes while the deferred action is in effect. DHS can terminate deferred action at any time, at its discretion.
Under existing regulations, a noncitizen granted deferred action may apply for and obtain employment authorization for the period of deferred action if they demonstrate “an economic necessity for employment.””
Don't let your immigration status prevent you from reporting unsafe working conditions. If you are a victim or witness in a labor investigation, you can apply for deferred action from DHS, who may contact USCIS to protect you from removal proceedings. You will need documentation from the labor investigation. You can learn more about filing a labor complaint here.
Know Your Rights
The Virginia Justice Project for Farm and Immigrant Workers of Legal Aid Justice Center and coalition partners, are coordinating with people across the Commonwealth to take action to protect immigrant workers and migrant farm workers. If you are an immigrant farm worker in Virginia and are unsure what your rights are, click here for resources and assistance.
If you have questions about applying for a USCIS petition, please reach out to us at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys by clicking on this link.