Category Archives: Immigrant Workers

From Michael’s desk

ICE activities in and around Oregon’s courthouses continue to present barriers to access to the legal system by immigrant workers. ICE agents, often in plain clothes, continue to detain persons they suspect of being without documents on and around Oregon’s courthouses, disrupting court proceedings and spreading fear in the immigrant community of attending court proceedings. This practice is interfering with equal access to the justice system. Workers are avoiding appearing at court to attend hearings, access court services such as restraining orders, or assert civil claims.

In December, NWJP joined a number of other community organizations in petitioning Oregon Chief Justice Martha Walters to issue a trial court rule prohibiting civil arrests on courthouse grounds or when coming to, or leaving from, court hearings. Such an order would be based upon a traditional common law right that has been recognized by the Oregon Supreme Court and upon the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Justice Walters met with petitioners and requested additional information about immigrant experience of ICE detention practices.

While she has not yet acted upon our petition, Chief Justice Walters has written to ICE to request a meeting to discuss this matter. Individuals who are concerned about this issue are encouraged to respectfully contact Justice Walters to share their experiences and concerns.

To help push this campaign forward, we are supporting an action on Monday at the Washington County Courthouse urging the Chief Justice to issue the order. Details here:
https://www.facebook.com/events/375583916435228/

From Michael’s desk

¡Ponte trucho! No Match Letters are On the Way Once again

Photo by Doug Yarrow. Michael explains pending Wage Theft legislation in our 2015 advocacy day.

Veterans of the struggle to support immigrants living in this country will remember the problems that arose from “no match” letters in the last decade.  A “no match” letter is a notification to an employer that the social security number the employer is using to report wages for an employee does not match the employee’s name in SSA’s data base. This can come about for a number of reasons, including change of name after marriage, misspelling or transposition of numbers in the employer’s records, or use of an incorrect number.  The receipt of a no-match letter does not indicate anything about the worker’s status, and does not require the employer to terminate the employee.  Because of problems in administering this system, the practice of sending out no-match letters ended more than ten years ago.

In July 2018 the Trump Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that, beginning in the spring of 2019, it will send no-match letters to every employer that has at least one Social Security “no-match.” The stated purpose of these letters is to assure that workers affected will be able to claim the social security benefits attributable to these wages. However, the transparent purpose in taking this action is to make life as miserable as possible for immigrants living in the US.

We can do some things to prepare. Above all, workers need to know that, once they have initially verified their eligibility to work, details about their immigration status are private and should not be discussed with others, including employers. Even with ICE, they have the right to remain silent. Employee representatives can negotiate with employers about how these letters will be handled.  For more information about how to respond see NILC's FAQ page.

NWJP Reaches out to Workers

While NWJP is mostly focused on legal and legislative strategies, we also do a good deal of outreach and education, to make sure that workers know their rights and have access to important resources.

In late 2017, NWJP received a grant to provide health and safety training for workers, especially hard-to-reach workers.  NWJP Attorney Kate Suisman created a Spanish-language training program focused on chemical safety, and traveled throughout the state training workers.  In partnership with the NW Forest Worker Center in Medford, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste in Woodburn, and the Voz Workers' Rights Education Project in Portland, over 60 workers were trained.  NWJP recently was awarded another grant for the coming year, and Kate will again provide health and safety training to workers, this time with an emphasis on ergonomics.

In addition to the health and safety training, this year we have done nine bilingual Know Your Rights workshops. We partnered with organizations including PCUN, Growing Gardens, Clackamas County Hispanic Interagency Network Team, Adelante Mujeres, Latino Connection, and the Santa Cecilia Church in Beaverton. We have participated in eight tabling events at the Mexican Consulate. In total, we have engaged over 700 low-wage immigrant workers and counting in the following cities: Hillsboro, Gresham, Hood River, Beaverton, Oregon City, Medford, Woodburn, Forest Grove, Canby, and Portland. One of our trainers-Laura Galindo Palomera- said “A lot of the workers I talked to are discriminated against on a daily basis and they feel overwhelmed with threats and harassment. Engaging workers and reminding them of their workplace rights is the best way to ensure that they become their own advocates.”

NWJP Helps Kick off the Campaign Against Measure 105

Over three decades ago, in 1987, Oregon passed a law which established a clear priority for state and local law enforcement with respect to enforcement of immigration law.  Oregon’s law protects against police profiling: it asserts that officers cannot arrest people based only on the suspicion that they may be in the country illegally.

Today, this law is in jeopardy. Many Oregonians are shocked to discover that Measure 105, a measure championed by white supremacists, will appear on the ballot this November. Measure 105 would eliminate this long-standing law, and permit local police around the state to squander local tax dollars to enforce federal immigration law.

The anti-immigrant measure was spearheaded by Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), as well as the Federation of Immigration Reform (FAIR), whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group. In contrast to these two groups, however, immigrants’ and workers’ rights groups have been springing into action to block their efforts.

Among those jumping in to help is NWJP. On Saturday, July 28, our staff joined the No on 105 Campaign Kickoff Rally.  With allied community groups we canvassed local businesses to raise awareness and to gather support to oppose this dangerous and detrimental measure. The goal was to collect 100 signatures from local businesses pledging to stand up to profiling and vote no on 105. Organized by Oregonians United Against Profiling, a coalition formed to oppose Measure 105, the event proved to be an overall success. More than a hundred volunteers packed into the Oregon AFL-CIO basement at 10 am on a Saturday morning, ready to hit the pavement. Shoulder to shoulder, united in common purpose, folks practiced canvassing techniques and role-played how to approach local businesses. The atmosphere of the room was one of promise, as speakers such as Joann Hardesty prepped canvassers with remarks, and OUAP staff passed out clipboards, water bottles, and posters to hang at each stop.

Surfing along the corner of SE 82nd Ave. & SE Powell Blvd., our staff passed out posters, engaged in lively conversation, and received a plethora of signatures (from businesses such as GenX, Cat ‘n Doggie Do’s, Cindie’s, and even Pizza Hut). After talking to over thirty businesses and running out of pledge forms, we were able to collect over ten verbal and written promises to stand with us in defeating Measure 105.

Through and through, keeping Oregon police focused on investigating crimes, and otherwise leaving immigrant communities alone, serves Oregon’s population well. Extensive research shows that cities that have sanctuary status thrive over those that do not: in sanctuary cities, crime rates are lower, the median average income is elevated, and the employment-to-population ratio is statistically higher. Local economies are strengthened when households remain intact. Our communities are better when immigrants feel safe and welcomed, and do not have to live in fear.

Laura, Pati, and Maggie canvassing for No on 105

This November 6, 2018, remember to vote NO on Measure 105. Together, with enough feet on the ground, we can change the tides of hate and ignorance.

From Michael’s Desk

As you probably know, Measure 105 to repeal Oregon’s “sanctuary” law has qualified to appear on the ballot this fall.

I put “sanctuary” in quotes because the long-standing Oregon statute that is being challenged by the ballot measure does not establish Oregon as a sanctuary at all.  It just directs that state and local law enforcement resources be dedicated to enforcing our criminal laws, and not squandered on chasing farm workers, landscapers and care givers whose sole offense is that they entered the country without documents or overstayed a visa.

I was a practicing attorney in Oregon before ORS 181A.820 was adopted, and I remember local police jurisdictions tying up multiple officers for many hours at a time in order to set up road blocks on busy roads to stop every motorist so that INS (ICE’s predecessor agency) could check the documents of everyone passing.  Those roadblocks were not only the source of annoying traffic jams, they were very reminiscent of old movies of Nazi Germany:  “Show me your papers.” This indignity is not the hallmark of a free and open society.

I particularly recall a young migrant worker who came to me for help during those times. He’d scraped together enough money to buy a car, and he’d picked up a hitch-hiker for whom he felt sorry  (having, himself, been in the same situation often enough).  Unfortunately, this hitch-hiker robbed him at knife-point, taking his money, his ID, his car and his shoes, and leaving him stranded on the side of the road.  After he walked about eight miles into town, he went to the local police to report this crime.

At the police department, he was arrested, and taken to jail as a “suspected illegal.” When he finally won his release about a week later, he’d not only lost his job, but we learned that no investigation of the robbery had occurred, and, indeed, his car had not even been reported as stolen.

These kinds of incidents are toxic to the trust most law enforcement leaders say is essential to good community policing. If undocumented workers—or even folks with legal status who might be wrongly profiled as undocumented—fear that interaction with police may risk their own arrest, they will not report crimes and they won’t cooperate with police as sources of information or testimony. This is why so many law enforcement leaders oppose Measure 105.

The English word “outlaw” comes from a time in ancient England when the king would declare that certain individuals were beyond the protection of the law.  These individuals were left to protect themselves and their families in any way they could, or tolerate being victimized.  The inevitable exploitation and violence not only affected them, but generally degraded the quality of life of everyone in the community.

ORS 181A.820 has, for thirty years prevented the legal creation of this type of outlaw class in Oregon communities.  But have no doubt that we’d quickly return to the “bad old days” that preceded its adoption, if Ballot measure 105 repeals it.

All of us who care about justice must stand up to the right-wing white supremacists who are pushing this benighted measure. We must get the facts, pledge to reject this measure, and get involved with others in the community working against it. (see https://orunited.org/)

We must vote NO on Measure 105.

California’s Immigrant Worker Protection Act Protects Oregon Workers

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.

From Michael’s desk

Why is ORS 181A.820 so important, and why are anti-immigrant organizations working so hard (and spending so much money from out-of-state millionaires and alt-right organizations) to put a measure on the ballot to overturn it?

Sometimes called Oregon’s sanctuary law, actually, ORS 181A.820 doesn’t provide immigrants with sanctuary at all; indeed, no state has the constitutional authority to do so. Under Article II of the constitution, immigration is a matter completely reserved to Congress.

What the law does do is to assure that local police resources are reserved for enforcing Oregon’s criminal laws, and aren’t squandered doing the work of federal ICE agents in finding and apprehending hard-working, law-abiding berry harvesters and landscapers who are working in Oregon without authorization. Local police departments have plenty to do investigating real crimes against people and property. Immigration law is quite complicated, and local police aren’t trained about the nuances of enforcing it. This is a recipe for violation of the rights of those of perceived foreign appearance. If an immigrant violates the criminal laws of Oregon, ORS 181A.820 permits police to arrest them and to communicate freely with ICE about their identity and status. It is only when a person’s sole offense is how she entered the country that the law restricts local police activity.

This is partly to protect public funds from waste and misuse, but the implications are far broader. The derivation of the term “outlaw” comes from old English law under which the king could ordain that certain persons were outside the protection of the king’s laws. Such persons became completely vulnerable to the predations of others who abused them. They had nowhere to turn for help or protection. At the end of the day, their only remedy to protect their lives, families and property was to arm themselves and resort to self-help.

Prior to the adoption of ORS 181A.820, unauthorized immigrants in Oregon found themselves in virtually such an “outlaw” state. I’m reminded of a client who sought my help some years ago. He’d given a hitchhiker a ride, was robbed of his car and money at knife-point, and left, barefoot, along the side of a country road. He walked eleven miles into town, found the police department, and reported the robbery. Rather than investigating this violent crime, the police arrested and jailed him. When he was released weeks later, no steps had been taken on his complaint, and the car had not even been reported as stolen. However one feels about unauthorized immigrants in our communities, surely we can all agree that failure to enforce laws like assault and armed robbery is a bad idea.

Cases like this would certainly return if ORS 181A.820 were repealed. People in the immigrant community would lose confidence in the police, and would not report crimes or cooperate in their investigation. Police leaders across the state agree that this would severely hamper their efforts at effective community policing.

A ballot measure to repeal ORS 181A.820, IP22, is being circulated for signature by out-of-state millionaires and by Oregonians for Immigration Reform, a nativist group that is hostile to the rights of immigrant workers.

If you are asked to sign IP22 to repeal the law, you should decline. And if the huge sums pouring in from out-of-state result in the measure being certified for the ballot, all of us must unite to defeat this hate-inspired step backward.

Update on ICE Presence at Local Courthouses

On January 10th, ICE released a directive outlining its civil immigration enforcement actions at federal and local courthouses. The enforcement policy outlines what we already know---ICE will continue to target undocumented individuals at courthouses “with criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats, [individuals] who have been ordered removed from the United States but have failed to depart, and [individuals] who have re-entered the country illegally after being removed.”

According to the directive, family members and friends of the targeted undocumented individuals will not be targeted at courthouses. The directive also states that ICE agents are supposed to avoid enforcement actions in areas that are non-criminal, including family court and small claims court, unless otherwise approved by the respective field office director.  

Nationwide, courtroom appearances by ICE agents have had an impact on immigrants too afraid to attend court proceedings. These tactics instill fear in immigrants, including our clients, who go to courts to enforce their employment rights, to access orders of protection and to defend themselves against criminal charges.

In our local courthouses, we know for sure that ICE is targeting undocumented individuals who attend criminal and DUI diversion hearings.

Despite the risks described above, NWJP hopes that this knowledge doesn’t dissuade our clients from attending their court hearings. Avoiding the courts will only complicate the lives of community members and will prevent access to the system of justice to vindicate important rights in the workplace. To serve as a support network, we currently work with partner organizations who will show up at courthouses as legal observers, and who will monitor and record ICE arrests at courthouses in an effort to assess legality and respond rapidly.

NWJP Recognizes the Loss of Preeminent Indigenous Leader and Organizer

When Rufino Dominguez Santos came to the United States as a migrant farm worker at the age of sixteen, he was already a veteran organizer on behalf of Mixteco farm workers in his native San Miguel Cuevas, Oaxaca.  After he was threatened by local land owners for his organizing work, he moved north, first to Baja California, and then on to the Central Valley in California. His migratory journey is common for many indigenous workers from Southern Mexico. In both places, Mr. Dominguez-Santos began organizing his countrymen to improve their working conditions.

Native peoples in Mexico historically have experienced discrimination at the hands of the mainstream culture in Mexico. As the balance of migration to the west coast began to shift from states like Michuacan to the more indigenous south, newly arriving indigenous workers found that most of the labor contractors and farm foremen did not come from indigenous communities, and were very abusive.  Often not speaking Spanish, except perhaps as a crude market language, indigenous workers found life in Northern Mexico and the United States to be brutal and grueling.  A Mixteco, Rufino learned that Oaxacan workers were organized only based upon village identity and tribal affiliation. But even among Mixtecos, inter-village rivalries were often deep and bitter, based upon centuries of competition for local resources. Primary identity was to a municipality, not to tribal affiliation.

Rufino became the first organizer to try to forge a Mixteco identity, and to organize across villages.  After significant success at this, his organization began to reach out to other Oaxacan indigenous workers in the United States, particularly organizing Zapatecos, Triques and Mijes.  (After centuries of abuse at the hands of Spanish colonizers and their descendents, indigenous groups are traditionally suspicious of working with those outside of their tradition.) Eventually, in 1991 they formed the current Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB), which provides a basis for access to work, services, communication and respect among the seventeen Oaxacan indigenous language groups and beyond.  Although FIOB’s work is centered in Fresno, it reaches well into migrant streams in Oregon and Washington.

In 2010 Dominguez-Santos was named director of the Institute for Migrant Affairs Abroad for the state of Oaxaca, a post that he held from January 2011 to August 2016. But working for the government in the face of so much corruption and political division proved to be extremely challenging.  When violent confrontations between state and federal law enforcement left several teachers dead and many injured, Rufino decided to quit his post. He returned to the United States to continue working here on behalf of indigenous people.

Sadly, Rufino died of complications with brain cancer on Nov. 11 at the premature age of 52. His brilliant leadership will be missed. We are honored and proud that Rufino joined other leaders, including Ramon Ramirez and Arturo Rodriguez, in NWJP’s original Advisory Board.

¿Rufino Dominguez? !Presente!

From Michael’s desk

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided Arias v. Raimondo, a very important case seriously affecting the ability of immigrants to use the federal courts to enforce employment laws.  When an employee complained of employer practices and sought to work elsewhere, the employer threatened to turn the employee over to ICE if he took other work.  Then, when the worker sued, the employer’s attorney  arranged

Photo by Doug Yarrow. Michael explains pending Wage Theft legislation in our 2015 advocacy day.

with ICE for the worker to be picked up when he appeared for his deposition.  The employee sued the employer’s attorney, individually, for retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The employer’s attorney defended on the grounds that he had never employed the worker, and therefore was not subject to suit for retaliation under the FLSA.  The 9th Circuit disagreed, finding that the attorney could be held responsible and sending a warning shot across the bow of any defense attorney inclined to deny workers a remedy for unpaid wages by exploiting the worker’s immigration status.

If we cannot keep the courts open to claims by unauthorized workers that their rights are being violated, all workers will lose basic protections since the floor under all workers would be eroded.  Congratulations to the Ninth Circuit for a great decision.