For people in the U.S. illegally, speaking up about missing wages can come at a big cost: deportation. Authorities and advocates say that since President Donald Trump’s 2016 election they’ve seen an increase in reports of dodgy bosses threatening to call federal immigration agents on workers.
In New York, where the labor department says it has investigated at least 30 cases in the last three years involving threats to a worker’s immigration status, the attorney general on Wednesday urged legislators to make clear such practices are illegal.
State Attorney General Letitia James is proposing legislation to sharpen the language of an existing law, which bars employers from firing, threatening, penalizing or otherwise discriminating against workers who report or blow the whistle on wage violations.
James’ legislation would expand the law’s definition of retaliatory conduct to include threats regarding a person’s immigration status. Potential punishments would remain the same: up to three months in jail and a $20,000 fine.
The state labor department has been using existing law to impose civil and regulatory penalties on employers accused of threatening a worker’s immigration status. Retaliation is generally classified as a misdemeanor in New York, but some labor advocates say James should go further and push lawmakers to make it a felony offense in immigration-related cases.
“New York State was built by immigrants and it has always stood proudly as a beacon of hope and opportunity no matter where you were born,” James, a Democrat, said in offering her legislation. “If President Trump is going to demonize immigrants and unscrupulous employers are going to exploit them, we’re ready to fight back against them.”
Trump, in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, renewed his call for a border wall and cast illegal immigration as a threat to Americans’ safety and economic security.