News/US: EEOC seeks to protect undocumented

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Subject: News/US: EEOC seeks to protect undocumented
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Oct 26 1999 - 20:45:18 EDT


Comments from Melanie:

Here is something good that the US is doing that will end up helping
trafficked persons. Just because you are illegal in the country and forced
to work, does not mean that you shouldn't recover pay for the time that you
were forced to work.

__________________

EEOC seeks to protect undocumented
Policy change aims to prevent abuses
By Stephen Franklin
Chicago Tribune, October 26, 1999

In a major policy turnaround, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission on Tuesday will announce a new rule giving undocumented workers
more protections against workplace abuses than ever before.

EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro, who a year ago became the first Latin female
to run the agency, told the Tribune that the change reflects "a second
look" at the workplace rights of illegal immigrants.

"The civil rights at the workplace must apply to all workers," Castro
explained. "We've become aware that many of these workers are retaliated
against once they complain, and basically they have little protection," she
added.

Previously, the agency took the view that its responsibilities were limited
in cases of workers who are in the U.S. illegally.

Now, Castro said, in what is likely to prove a controversial change, the
agency will seek all protections and legal remedies for undocumented
workers regardless of their immigration status.

These include getting workers their back pay, getting workers reinstated to
their jobs if they were wrongly let go and asking the courts to order
employers to pay damages as well as attorney's fees.

The change is needed to deter employers from harassing or discriminating
against undocumented workers because they are viewed as defenseless and
without civil rights, Castro explained, citing recent court rulings and
such laws as the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which, she said, support the
agency's action.

The Civil Rights Act gave workers the right to seek damages from their
employers to cover their financial losses stemming from workplace abuses,
as well as damages to punish employers for breaking the law.

The new policy was praised by community and immigrant rights groups, which
said the EEOC's action will make it easier to protect undocumented workers,
who are often afraid to come forward with their complaints to the government.

"It will make a difference. A lot of undocumented workers are workers who
are not protected or reached by the government," said Dale Asis, director
of the Coalition of African, Asian and Latino Immigrants of Illinois.

But the EEOC's action was strongly denounced by Dan Stein, the head of
Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Washington-based lobbying group
that has called for tougher laws to curtail illegal immigration and
stricter enforcement to purge workplaces of undocumented workers.

"It appears to be sanctioning people who have unclean hands, people who
break our laws willingly and knowingly, and people who are bidding down the
wages of all Americans," Stein said.

Rather than offering more protections for undocumented workers, Stein said
the EEOC should be "investigating those immigrant-dominated firms that hire
their own immigrants and then prosecute those firms for employment
discrimination against other Americans."

Brian Perryman, the Chicago-based district director for the U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service, said he backed "any effort to
protect workers while maintaining compliance with immigration laws."

He said his agency places a priority on investigating "employers who
exploit illegal aliens in the workforce."

EEOC officials disputed the idea that their agency's new policy will
undermine the government's efforts in the last few years to curtail the
flow of undocumented workers to the U.S. and to root out employers who hire
these workers.

"Our sense is that this will help in the long run with compliance with the
law," said John P. Rowe, the EEOC's Chicago-based district director. "You
can't get compliance if you give employers a tremendous incentive to hire
undocumented workers because they won't complain and because they don't
have a place to complain to."

The agency's new policy may cause a stir on Capitol Hill among congressmen
who have successfully led the drive over the last decade and a half to
toughen the nation's immigration laws.

Under the new ruling, the EEOC sets out only a few conditions that would
prevent it from seeking back pay or other remedies for undocumented
workers. One of these, for example, is for undocumented workers who leave
the U.S. and cannot return because they are not legally able to.

Since taking office last October, Castro said that she has tried to correct
the agency's lack of attention to special concerns of Asian and Latino
workers. And such a policy change, she added, is one that these and other
immigrant groups have sought.

EEOC officials could not predict how many workers might be affected.

Castro was in Chicago for an all-day hearing Tuesday by the EEOC on
discrimination faced by workers because of their national origins--that is,
workers who are discriminated against because of their ethnic background,
their accent or their inability to speak English.

Officials from several immigrant groups said that the EEOC's new policy
will only overcome undocumented workers' fears of filing complaints with
the government if the agency shows that it will go after abusive employers.

So, too, they said that the agency will have to overcome workers' fears
that their complaints will lead to their disclosure as illegal immigrants
and ultimately, their deportation by the INS.

Castro said that, as a matter of policy, her agency does not identify
undocumented workers to the INS.

"It depends on what resources the EEOC is going to commit to this," said
Diego Bonesatti, an official with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and
Refugee Rights.

"We've noticed a fair amount of scams run on documented workers, ranging
from not paying overtime or not paying their wages," he said. Most workers
accept the situation, however, he explained. "They just say, 'It stinks and
that is the way it is.' "

Melanie Orhant

morhant@igc.org
__________________

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