One of the challenges in supporting immigrant workers in the current political climate is the many unknowns about how anti-immigrant rhetoric will play out in our communities. We recently saw the impact of what can happen when workers have a little more information about what is happening in their communities and workplaces.
California recently passed a state law requiring, among other things, employers to notify workers if they receive notice that ICE plans to visit the employer to inspect the I-9 forms it has on file. I-9 forms contain information about an individual’s work authorization status, as well as other personal information, including their home addresses. While not technically an immigration “raid,” the inspections do sometimes result in worker arrests, in addition to potential fines for the employer.
In late February, a large florist company in Canby, Oregon, received such a notice of inspection from ICE. Because the company headquarters or parent company is located in California, it followed California law and notified its employees, including Oregon workers, of the upcoming inspection. That notice gave workers a leg up and time to prepare. As word spread, the community swung into action to support workers.
Organizations from Portland and the Willamette Valley organized a community forum for the affected workers. NWJP, along with Causa, PCUN, Latino Network, Oregon Law Center, ACLU, American Friends, AILA, UNIDOS, IMiRJ, and others, spoke to workers about what to expect during the inspection process, and how workers could protect their rights. Immigrant workers learned how to make a plan for the families in the event the worst should happen. We held an impromptu clinic to triage workers’ immigration-related needs and questions. Community organizations then held a series of follow-up meetings to continue working with the workers to provide more information and resources.
While it is still not clear what ICE will do with the information it collected in Canby, the California law worked to provide some protections for immigrant workers in Oregon that they would not otherwise have had. Specifically, the workers had notice of their heightened risk, and were able to take steps to educate themselves and make informed decisions about what to do next. They were able to talk to their families and make a plan for whatever comes next. And they had the experience of watching the community circle around them and say with its actions, “We care about you and your future, and we are here and ready to help.” The Immigrant Worker Protection Act is a model for what we could do in Oregon to protect our neighbors from the current terror that ICE enforcement activities seek to cause.