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Immigration reform must include protections for rights of immigrant workers

A new report out today by the International Labor Recruitment Working Group, which is made up of organizations working in various industries and with workers across employment sectors and visa categories, highlights the wide range of abuses endured by immigrant workers.

The report, titled, “The American Dream is Up for Sale: A Blueprint for Ending International Labor Recruitment Abuse,” details many of the abuses common among immigrant workers- such as human trafficking and retaliation against those who complain about on-the-job conditions- and provides recommendations for changing them.

These recommendations include freedom from discrimination and retaliation, right to know about the recruitment process and workers’ rights under the U.S. visa system, access to the U.S. justice system for workers suffering from employer abuse, and right to an employment contract.

The report is referenced in a New York Times editorial today calling for plans for immigration reform to include stronger protections for immigrant workers against exploitation and abuse.

“Such protections, essential to any reform plan, would help rid the system of bottom-feeding employers who hire and underpay and otherwise exploit cheap immigrant labor, dragging down wages and workplace standards for everyone,” the editorial said.

“Such abuses are easily visited on immigrant workers by unscrupulous employers who use the threat of deportation to force their victims into silence. This imbalance of power harms workers who toil in the shadows. But the system that recruits legal temporary workers is also a mess. In the event that an immigration overhaul greatly expands the number of guest workers — even hard-line Republicans have been talking about adding temporary visas in agriculture and in high-tech industries — it is crucial to avoid making the mess even bigger.”

This is National COSH’s position exactly. By protecting against employer discrimination and retaliation, immigrant workers can be less fearful to report dangerous or exploitive working conditions.

National COSH supports the New York Times’ call for immigration reform that includes strong protections from exploitation for immigrant workers. In addition, we call on Federal and State OSHA programs to enforce requirements that workers receive adequate safety and health training in a language they understand; that OSHA aggressively inform immigrant workers of their rights to speak up for their health and safety; and that employers who violate these workers’ rights to file OSHA complaints or speak up for their safety and health be severely punished.