For our third and final look back at NWJP’s unique contributions to the fight for workers’ rights over the last 20 years, we want to lift up the piece that is very high profile: immigrant rights.
From the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the Trump travel ban of 2017, immigrants in the US have long been the focus of various kinds of extremely harsh repression. At NWJP, we see how that repression leads to more forms of exploitation for immigrant workers. A recent national study found that 2/3 of low-wage workers suffered some type of wage violation during the week prior to being surveyed; the number is even higher for immigrant workers. To build the movement for all workers’ rights, we must be a part of the movement for immigrants’ rights. NWJP is proud to be right there at the intersection, fighting back against the various waves of anti-immigrant initiatives, and helping push forward when there are opportunities.
Right after forming in 2003, NWJP rode with and provided legal advice and representation to the 49 immigrant and other freedom riders on the Portland bus in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride. Buses came from across the U.S. to Washington, D.C. to lobby for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Despite threats and the ultimate failure of Reform, the action successfully drew organized labor and the Black community into a common struggle for immigrant rights, and spread a powerful immigrant rights message throughout the country.
In 2008 and 2009, in Columbia County, we helped defeat one Arizona-style anti-immigrant ballot measure, and litigated and won the blocking of another. NWJP represented local businesses to stand up to anti-immigrant efforts to criminalize undocumented workers in the construction industry.
As anti-immigrant sentiment in Oregon grew, many potential allies expressed concern about some aspects of the economic and cultural changes that were happening in Oregon. In response, from 2008 to 2010, we organized and conducted dozens of “myth buster” discussions throughout urban and rural Oregon to dispel untruths and to help allies better understand the complexities of immigration and the lives of immigrant workers.
Working with allies in 2014, we successfully advocated for an end to the Oregon sheriffs’ practice of honoring ICE Holds. One of the main ways that ICE was able to deport immigrants was that when sheriffs arrested immigrants, ICE would place a “Hold” on them, meaning that sheriffs would not release immigrants when there was no longer a law enforcement justification for jailing them, but, instead, wait until ICE came to the jail to arrest them.
In 2018-2019, we responded in various ways to Trump administration policies that were creating terror in immigrant families: we did community outreach on I-9 audits conducted by the administration; we educated workers, the community and employers about Social Security Administration “no match” letters, an effort by the Trump Administration to co-opt employers into acting as federal immigration officials; and we participated in several raids response coalitions.
NWJP has long worked in coalition with allies like PCUN, CAUSA, IMiIRJ, organized labor and others with respect to countless public policy campaigns, for example, the 2018 defeat of Measure 105--the ballot measure designed to repeal Oregon’s historic sanctuary law and the 2019 passing of Drivers Licenses For All – ensuring that all Oregonians, regardless of citizenship, would be able to receive a driver’s license. In 2019, we collaborated with partners to successfully petition the Oregon Chief Justice to adopt a court rule forbidding warrantless arrests by ICE in or around Oregon courthouses in order to protect the rights of immigrant workers to pursue their legal claims in court or to testify in support of other workers.
A tremendous obstacle to immigrant workers being able to stand up for themselves on the job is the overwhelming fear of being deported in retaliation for doing so. In 2022 and 2023, we have led efforts with state and federal agencies to persuade them to provide “Statements of Interest” to US Citizenship and Immigration Services so that workers complaining of employment violations can obtain two-year work permits and deferred action to be able to safely pursue their claims.
And, in 2023, we hired an immigration lawyer to help workers obtain employment-based immigration relief, like this new Deferred Action for Labor Based Enforcement and U- and T- visas.
While there is still much work to be done, NWJP--with its expertise in both immigrants’ and workers’ rights—helped build the strong local and national coalitions that made these wins possible. 20 years of relationship building has been a key to building worker and community power. Our movements for economic, immigrant and racial justice need the kind of legal support that steadfastly advances the cause of justice, and NWJP has been doing just that for the past twenty years. With your support, we will be part of this fight for another twenty years.