Stand Up for the Rights of Immigrant Workers

Immigrants helped build this country and have played a central role in our union since its inception. Employers and the politicians that represent them seek to exploit divisions between immigrant and native-born workers, driving down wages and stripping away hard-won workers’ rights.

The Supreme Court’s Hoffman Plastic Compounds ruling in March 2002 decreed that immigrant workers fired for organizing a union are not entitled to back pay or reinstatement. The court effectively decided that immigrant workers “have no rights that bosses need respect.” Employers now routinely use the Hoffman ruling to fire union activists. But there are examples where immigrant workers have stood up for their rights and have won. Fermin Rodriguez, an undocumented worker fired for his union activity in Los Angeles, was reinstated in 2015 by the National Labor Relations Board after the evidence showed his employer El Super grossly violated the union rights of Rodriguez and his coworkers. 

Employers use the threat of deportation to scare immigrant workers during organizing drives. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has resumed sending out ‘no-match’ letters which are based on an error-filled database and result in employers improperly firing large numbers of workers. The E-Verify program, by SSA’s own admission, contains 17 million errors, and a 2020 estimate suggested that 760,000 workers with legal documentation have been negatively impacted since 2006.  SSA should be administering retirement benefits, not enforcing immigration laws. I-9 audits can result in the quick discharge of workers with no recourse available to the union.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents use heavy-handed raids to terrorize communities and workplaces. Following workplace raids, children who are U.S. citizens remain in the country while parents are jailed and then deported. Our immigration detention system unnecessarily locks up hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year, exposing detainees to brutal and inhumane conditions of confinement at massive costs to American taxpayers. Since the inception of the 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, immigrant communities have been driven further into the shadows. 

While the U.S. has for decades had policies which were harsh and retributive against immigrants, under former President Donald Trump there was a concerted effort to punish asylum seekers and new immigrants through twisted, illegal, and immoral policies.  Nearly every aspect of immigration policy was redesigned in an explicit effort to attempt to reduce the number of non-white people, from placing new arrivals into literal concentration camps to turning immigration judicial proceedings into kangaroo courts where individuals had no hope of prevailing.  

Proponents of immigration reform — including UE — had some guarded hope with the inauguration of President Joe Biden.  Biden took some incremental steps to improve our immigration system.  He has worked to reunite children with their parents cruelly separated by the Trump Administration.  He has moved unaccompanied minors out of DHS-run detention facilities into more humane facilities under the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services.  He attempted to end the Trump-era policy of forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, although a reactionary Supreme Court bizarrely ruled he had to continue this practice.  He has issued a blueprint which called for the defunding of the border wall, funding of legal representation for migrant families, and reducing court and visa backlogs.  

Perhaps most notably, in January Biden sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 (H.R. 1177/S. 348) to Congress.  This Act would create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented individuals, with Dreamers, TPS holders, and some immigrant farmworkers eligible for green cards immediately.  It would also reform our current system by clearing backlogs, reducing wait times, and eliminating per-country visa caps.  Green cards would be easier for lower-wage workers to acquire. It would protect immigrant worker whistleblowers from deportation, enhance the ability of the government to prosecute employers for exploiting immigrant workers, and would require DHS and DOL to make recommendations for improving our broken verification process.  

While much of the above is sorely needed, it needs to be taken into context of a more mixed complete picture.  The U.S. Citizenship Act is not a perfect bill, and still contains provisions which continue the militarization of our southern border.  In addition, as has been the case with much of the legislation passed by House Democrats, it has stalled in the Senate, and is unlikely to move anywhere without being watered down or having pro-corporate and punitive elements added — red lines which poisoned the well for immigration reform in the past.  If any meaningful immigration reform is to pass in the near future, the Senate must ignore the archaic process related to the filibuster that requires 60 votes for a bill to proceed, and allow a bill to pass with a simple majority.  

As the odds of comprehensive immigration reform are long at the moment, we must rely upon executive action.  Biden’s record here, rather than his rhetoric, has been disappointing, and at times appalling.  With eight months of presidency under his belt, Biden has yet to dismantle many of the onerous Trump-era policies penalizing asylum seekers and green card holders.  Indeed, his administration defends them in court.  Biden has continued Title 42, a Trump-era public-health order which allows the expulsion of most adult migrants without access to the asylum process, purportedly due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, in spite of the fact that cases are much lower in the countries of origin for most of these migrants.  Over 100,000 unused green cards held over from the Trump Administration are set to expire at the end of September, and Biden has made no moves to increase the speed of adjudication to allow their use before they expire.   In July of this year Biden initially announced he would break his campaign promise of allowing 60,000 refugees to settle in the U.S. in 2021, and signaled an intent to remain at the Trump-era levels of 15,000 — a move only reversed after tremendous outcry.  In recent months even his allies within the Democratic party have become exasperated with how slowly the unwinding of reactionary Trump-era immigration policy is taking place, leading some to wonder if forces within the administration even prioritize reforming our broken immigration system at all.  

Denying immigrant workers decent wages and conditions undermines the wages and conditions of all. All workers, regardless of immigration status, must have the right to form unions, to file complaints against unfair treatment without fear of reprisal, to receive unemployment, disability and workers’ compensation benefits, and to have access for themselves and their families to affordable housing, healthcare, education and transportation.

Attacks on immigrants merit strong resistance by members of our union. UE must work with other unions, faith, and community groups to fight collectively for legalization and against anti-immigrant laws and sentiment.


  1. Demands an end to the separation of immigrant families, an end to all concentration and/or internment camps for immigrants, and an end to the criminalization of asylum seekers, refugees and those who provide humanitarian aid to them; 
  2. Demands the federal government impose an immediate moratorium on all ICE raids, arrests, deportations, harassment, seizures, I-9 audits, Secure Communities, the 287(g) and E-Verify programs, and other abuses of undocumented workers;
  3. Calls for an end to all political attacks against the sanctuary city movement and encourages all locals to actively support all efforts in their community to defend immigrants from abuse and harassment;
  4. Demands the federal government end their VOICE program, which serves the sole purpose of stirring up anti-immigrant racism, repeal the anti-immigrant so-called “Kate’s Law,” and end all travel bans;
  5. Supports the inclusion of immigrants in all current and proposed public healthcare programs, including Medicare for All; 
  6. Demands that Congress enact immigration reform legislation that:
    1. Includes a legalization program, allowing all immigrants currently living in the U.S. to remain here permanently and without penalty;
    2. Protects worker rights for both current and future immigrants, including overturning the Hoffman Plastics decision;
    3. Prioritizes family unification;
    4. Liberalizes political asylum procedures;
    5. Rejects guest-worker programs;
    6. Repeals the REAL ID Act;
    7. Ensures immigrants have equal access to higher education, including student loans, financial aid, and in-state tuition;
  7. Urges locals to negotiate contract language that:
    1. Protects jobs and contract rights regardless of immigration status;
    2. Allows undocumented workers to update immigration status without loss of rights;
    3. Prevents the employer from taking adverse action in the event of the receipt of a Social Security “no-match” letter;
    4. Prevents the employer from participating in voluntary ICE enforcement programs;
    5. Obligates the employer to refuse entry to ICE agents who do not possess a valid warrant and to notify the union if contacted by ICE;
    6. Requires the employer to supply an independent translator and allow union representation when communicating on important matters with workers not fluent in English;
    7. Makes available copies of the contract in each language spoken by employees;
  8. Encourages locals to work with and financially support local immigrant rights coalitions which assist undocumented workers and fight to fix our broken immigration system;
  9. Calls on locals with immigrant members to educate employers on the rights of immigrant workers, the employer’s right to resist ICE harassment and intimidation, and the perils of ICE’s voluntary enforcement initiatives;
  10. Urges locals to educate themselves about federal laws related to immigrants and refugees, and to assist their immigrant members in attaining documented status and citizenship if they so desire;
  11. Demands that state motor vehicle agencies change policies and programs that make it impossible for immigrants to legally own and operate vehicles;
  12. Calls upon the union at all levels to continue to provide education and materials for members and the community about the real causes of worker migration to the U.S.