Attorney General Bonta Urges DHS To Extend Deferred Action in Workers Witness Cooperation Cases

Tuesday, July 2, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined a multistate coalition urging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to delay immigration enforcement action for workers who are participating in labor violation investigations. Currently, workers can apply to DHS for deferred action for two years if they are victims of, or witnesses to, alleged workplace violations being investigated or prosecuted by the government. In a letter to the DHS Deferred Action Program, Attorney General Bonta argued that given the challenges we face in securing witness cooperation in our investigations and enforcement actions when employers target vulnerable noncitizen workers, extending the deferred action period to four years would make a large difference. In today’s letter, Attorney General Bonta joined 18 attorneys general and a coalition of state, county, and city labor enforcement agencies. 

“Regardless of immigration status, workers who have witnessed or been the victims of labor violations should be protected. We can’t protect workers if people are afraid to report labor violations,” said Attorney General Bonta. “I urge DHS to extend the deferred action period, so the program is more effective in reducing worker reticence to assist labor enforcement and protections are more meaningful. I am committed to protecting the rights of all workers, including noncitizen workers who are helping to make our workplaces better here in California and across the country.”

In January 2023, DHS announced a new initiative allowing noncitizen victims of or witnesses to workplace violations to request expedited deferred action from potential immigration enforcement. The program was created to support labor enforcement efforts by attempting to remove a barrier keeping workers from filing complaints or offering information. Noncitizen workers are reluctant to step forward and file complaints about workplace conditions to government enforcers due to the fear of deportation. This trepidation from undocumented workers to come forward and provide testimony is a well-known barrier to effective labor enforcement efforts and can lead to exploitative working conditions. Employers are aware of this dynamic and sometimes leverage that fear to suppress complaints or retaliate against complaining workers by seeking immigration enforcement against them.

In the letter, the coalition requests that DHS extend the deferred action protection period from its current two-year period to a four-year period. The program’s two-year limited duration means that some workers’ protections may or will expire during investigations, and workers will be vulnerable when that happens. Workers are acutely aware of this risk, and some may remain hesitant to cooperate with enforcement actions and to avail themselves of DHS’s deferred action program because of this limited duration. A longer deferred action period is necessary to account for the length of time that enforcement actions can last. 

In submitting the comment letter, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Illinois, Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. In addition the attorneys general were joined by the Seattle Office of Labor standards, the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, the California Department of Industrial Relations – Department of Occupational Safety and Health, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the Los Angeles County Office of Labor Equity, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the Denver Labor Auditors Office, and the Office of the New York City Comptroller. 

The letter is available here.

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