Democracy Forward, NOWCRJ Challenged the Unlawful Policy in Court Last Summer
Illegal Rule Shielded Abusive Employers from Accountability, Discouraged Vulnerable Workers From Reporting Crimes and Mistreatment
Washington, D.C. — The Department of Labor (DOL) announced that, as of today, it is withdrawing an unlawful Trump-era policy that made harmful changes to DOL’s U and T visa certification policy, shredding essential protections for immigrant victims and witnesses of workplace crimes and human trafficking.
Democracy Forward sued Trump’s Department of Labor over the changes on behalf of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) last summer.
In response to today’s action, Democracy Forward and NOWCRJ issued the following statement:
“We applaud the Department of Labor’s decision to withdraw this unlawful and harmful Trump administration policy. The policy failed the immigrant victims of labor crimes and trafficking that DOL was empowered to protect — like the immigrant seafood workers with whom NOWCRJ works. And it made all workers in America less safe. We are proud of our legal fight against the prior administration’s unlawful change, and we are encouraged that the Biden administration is signaling a return to a robust and effective U and T visa certification policy.”
On July 7, 2020, Democracy Forward sued the Department of Labor on behalf of NOWCRJ for making unlawful changes to its U and T visas certification program. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
U and T visas allow immigrant victims of serious crimes — including human trafficking, labor exploitation, and other workplace offenses — who are able to assist in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenders to remain in the country with lawful status. Prior to the Trump administration’s unlawful changes, DOL’s Wage and Hour Division ran a robust program to certify both types of visa applications when immigrants assisted DOL in the detection and investigation of crimes. Workers facing abuse could then petition USCIS to obtain immigration protections that weren’t dependent on their employers.
But the Trump administration made changes to the program in July 2019 that made workers less safe and discouraged them from aiding law enforcement in combating workplace crimes. These changes also made it easier for abusive employers to get away with exploitation. Learn more about the Trump administration’s unlawful changes here.
The Trump administration’s unlawful rule forced immigrant workers organizing with NOWCRJ’s Seafood Workers Alliance to delay and abandon plans to report abusive working conditions to DOL for fear of the consequences of immediate referral to criminal law enforcement and retaliation by their employer.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) was founded as a workers’ rights and racial justice response to the man-made disaster that came along with Hurricane Katrina. As politicians and employers attempted to use the storm to pit communities of color against each other, a group of Black and immigrant workers came together from public housing developments, FEMA trailer parks, day labor corners, and labor camps across Louisiana to build a new freedom movement: multi-racial; committed to racial, gender, and immigrant justice; and dedicated to building power at the intersection of race and the economy. For more than a decade, the members of NOWCRJ have continued to fight for dignity and justice, winning higher wages, better working conditions and pro-worker policies.
Sabina Hinz-Foley Trejo
New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice