Congressional Briefing on the POWER Act

Too often, when immigrant workers assert their labor or civil rights or organize for better working conditions, they face threats of immigration enforcement from unscrupulous employers seeking to silence them. This retaliation undercuts workers’ ability to enforce their rights and results in more dangerous workplaces and lower wages for all workers.

Reps. Judy Chu (CA-28) and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) have reintroduced the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation Act, also known as the POWER Act (H.R.1828), which provides a solution to this problem by giving greater protections to workers who want to stand up for their rights and strengthens the ability of labor agencies to enforce our nation’s labor and employment laws. 

Last week, Rep. Chu hosted a congressional briefing alongside Jobs With Justice and other partners, union representatives, and colleagues from other labor organizations. Legislators and their staff had the opportunity to hear from workers about employers’ threats and retaliation for demanding their labor rights.

“We tried to negotiate for better working conditions, and instead, the company decided to spend 1.8 million dollars on a group of anti-union advisors to harass us and spread fear.”

Milagro Tortillas’ worker, ARISE Chicago

Members of Congress, including Reps. Chu and Silvia Garcia (TX-29) attended, and Rep. Chu spoke of her commitment to these workers and their efforts to see this bill a reality, “I was thrilled that earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security announced that noncitizen workers who are victims of violation of labor rights can now access an expedited form of relief from deportation as they cooperate with labor standards investigations. However, this process provides no path to permanent legal status, and can be rescinded via future executive order. The POWER Act would build on and codify DHS’s new policy and deliver definitive protection so that we can permanently put an end to threats to immigrant workers and improve workplace conditions for all Americans.”

Rep. Judy Chu (CA-28) speaking in solidarity at POWER Act briefing on April 27, 2023.

Today, 19 members of Congress have cosponsored the bill due to the persuasiveness of the brave workers who have spoken out and the efforts of Jobs With Justice and its partners, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Employment Law Project, and ARISE Chicago, IUPAT, and many other unions and worker advocates. 

Further, we are in conversations with Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ), a long-time supporter of workers’ rights and of this bill in particular, to arrange the bill reintroduction in the Senate later this year. We are committed to continuing recruiting supporters and educating the public until the bill passes and these labor protections are available to all workers.

On January 13, 2023, the Department of Homeland Security announced that noncitizen workers who are victims of, or witnesses to, labor rights violations can access a streamlined and expedited deferred action request process. This process will protect noncitizen workers from threats of immigration-related retaliation from exploitative employers. Workers will be able to visit for additional information in English and Spanish and to submit requests.  

This new process will improve DHS’s longstanding practice of using its discretionary authority to consider labor and employment agency-related requests for deferred action on a case-by-case basis. These improvements advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to empowering workers and improving workplace conditions. The centralized intake process will allow DHS to review these time-sensitive requests efficiently, provide additional security to eligible workers on a case-by-case basis, and more robustly support the mission of labor agencies. 

This victory resulted from the unwavering efforts and courageous whistleblowing of immigrant workers who risked their livelihoods to confront deceitful employers. Consider the example of Unforgettable Coatings, Inc., a commercial painting corporation that operates in multiple states. This company unlawfully took millions of dollars from its workers and even used their immigration status to discourage them from reporting the abuse and obstruct an official investigation. However, the Department of Labor (DOL) was able to pursue a federal case against the company for violating the minimum wage laws and ultimately settled the case for $3 million, thanks to the courageous immigrant workers who risked everything to expose the labor violations. 

The fact remains that workers’ vulnerability translates into an unfair competition that erodes our economy, a race to the bottom, where all workers lose. This announcement is a step forward in this fight. Workers can find a complete list of the documents and evidence required to take advantage of this tool at  

However, it is important to note that Deferred Action is a temporary relief and does not provide a path to citizenship or permanent residency. In other words, this procedure offers solely momentary safeguards without an option to attain permanent status, which may be annulled by executive decision. The POWER Act is a necessary advancement to provide resolute, dependable security and assure consistent compliance with our labor regulations. 

Disclaimer: the author is not a licensed attorney and does not provide legal services. The information provided here is for general educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you require legal advice, consult a licensed attorney or a qualified non-profit organization providing legal services to immigrants. The information provided is based on the author’s knowledge as of Feb. 23, 2023, and may not reflect the most current legal developments. Therefore, you should not rely on the information provided here as a substitute for obtaining legal advice specific to your situation. 

After an eight-year fight for justice, the primarily immigrant former employees of Tito Contractors finally won a significant victory in a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling over unfair labor practices at Tito. The NLRB’s decision comes nearly a decade after Tito Contractors retaliated against the workers after they sought to force Tito to comply with federal wage-hour laws and attempted to organize a union. 

The Tito’s workers case was about far more than winning a union, higher wages, back pay, or other benefits on the job. It was about the dignity of immigrant workers standing up and fighting an employer who wielded immigration enforcement like a weapon, often threatening to report workers to immigration authorities for their organizing activities. This week’s NLRB ruling brings a conclusion to the near eight-year effort, marked by several additional victories with the NLRB, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

The NLRB ruling makes it clear that Tito Contractors was in the wrong and ordered the company to pay nine former employees $250,000 in backpay, expunge records of unlawful discipline and discharges. The company’s owner must issue formal letters of apology to the impacted workers. Additionally, the NLRB also secured a commitment from DHS to protect workers who were victims of substantial abuse on the job. 

Much of this began in 2013 when Tito’s workers started organizing with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 51 and Tito Contractors responded with fierce retaliation. The company fired workers, denied workers overtime pay they were rightfully owed, and threatened to call immigration authorities on workers and their families. Even after workers won their union election in the face of retaliation and multiple NLRB rulings found Tito Contractors in the wrong, workers were still unable win protections of a union contract and received no restitution for Tito’s heinous actions. 

But the workers persevered and continued their fight for eight long years and now finally have victory in hand.Jobs With Justice started working with the impacted Tito’s workers not long after the initial organizing efforts were met with resistance and retaliation. Our national Protect Our Workers from Exploitation & Retaliation (POWER) campaign was heavily influenced by Tito’s workers adversity. Their courageous fight to seek out remedies from Tito’s helped change the conversation about how we address the exploitation of immigrant workers in the United States.

The NLRB settlement on Tito’s case is only the tip of the iceberg, with a sea change   federal government policy decisions to help bring an end to the abuse faced by workers like those who worked at Tito Contractors. 

As the case unfolded, the NLRB sought special work visas for the workers known as U-visas—visas reserved for those who’ve faced violations of specific federal laws. But backlogs at USCIS left the workers in limbo. Just five months ago, the USCIS office announced its policy shift, granting the stop-gap protections for people waiting on U-visas—including the Tito’s workers. 

Earlier in the fall, the NLRB issued two new policy memos. The first attempts to hold bad bosses accountable for the unlawful treatment of workers and provide more financial relief for those workers impacted by employers’ actions. The second memo promises the NLRB will do more to protect immigrant workers and ensure they can freely exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act without retaliation from employers.

Coinciding with those memos, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a memo instructing DHS to facilitate the enforcement of labor and employment laws, marking a significant policy shift and one Jobs With Justice and our allies have long fought for. 

After nearly a decade of work, we are finally seeing significant policy shifts that ensure workers—at Tito’s or any other employer—never again have to face the threats, the retaliation, and punishment stemming from efforts to organize for a fair and decent return on their work.We are so excited to celebrate what the Tito’s workers accomplished. Their victory goes far beyond back pay and the freedom to work without fear of harassment from immigration authorities. Their incredible achievement is for the generations of workers to come who can finally earn the benefits they deserve, and when bad bosses or the system fail them, they can take action and win.

On August 7, 2019 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted aggressive workplace raids in Mississippi. Agents arrested around 680 people in what is considered the largest immigration raid in U.S. history. In response to this crisis, Jobs With Justice sent nine leaders and activists from across the country to coordinate, train, and support the Southeastern Immigrant Rights Network (SEIRN) and local groups to conduct interviews of more than 140 workers to document what happened and support existing and emerging leadership. Jobs With Justice stands in solidarity with the raid-targeted workers and supports the working class community of Morton, Mississippi that was devastated and traumatized by the event.

While in Morton, we heard so many stories about chronic pain, constant infections, sexual harassment, child labor — because parents are only paid a dollar and change for each forty-pound box of chicken they process. These raids targeted poultry workers. Meatpacking, and particularly poultry processing, are among the worst jobs in the country. Workers at one of the plants in Mississippi had recently fought and won improvements after shining light on patterns of discrimination and sexual harassment.

Jobs With Justice will fight tirelessly for the rights of working people in Mississippi, the rights of children to know that their parents will be there to pick them up from school, and the right to advocate at work without fear of retaliation. We are providing strategic support to worker leaders so they can implement the solutions they know would improve their lives and the lives of communities across the country who are wrapped up in the meat-processing industry.

Jobs With Justice is committed to building up the leadership of the workers in Mississippi by having organizers on the ground and by working with partners like the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, who can build lasting power.

We continue to advocate for the POWER Act, and demand employers cannot use ICE as a retaliation force deployed to silence and disappear workers who exercise their rights and demand what they deserve. The retaliation workers experienced is a direct result of a vicious immigration system built for the benefit of big business. The people of Morton, Mississippi won’t stand for it, and neither do we. 

Read the feature-length story in The New Yorker about life since the Morton raids and the continued need to support working people in the aftermath of their community upheaval: 

After ICE Came to Morton, Mississippi

People working at a meat distribution warehouse in Brooklyn were tired of working for unsustainable pay without health insurance, paid holidays or overtime pay, so they decided to come together to improve their jobs. Their company immediately threatened and fired individuals for their support of a union, but they persisted in wanting to achieve a better workplace. In 2005 they voted to join together in union, yet their bosses refused to negotiate with them. After the workers took them to court, the company claimed it had no obligation to honor its employees’ union because some of the people it hired were undocumented immigrants.

The company, Agriprocessors Inc, lost its case before the National Labor Relations Board, appealed the decision, and then lost again before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In fact, the only judge who agreed with the company’s ludicrous argument was Brett Kavanaugh, now President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

This saga isn’t the only time Agriprocessors has been in the news. In 2008, while under investigation by numerous state and federal agencies for alarming workplace conditions, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers raided a Postville, Iowa meatpacking plant owned by Agriprocessors, resulting in arrests of nearly 400 immigrants working in the plant. Instead of being recognized as victims and witnesses of crimes such as labor trafficking and workplace abuses, the employees were treated as criminals.

Just two days after the raid, the Des Moines Register published a lengthy article detailing the history of workplace safety violations at the plant, including nine citations within just two years. Immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico who worked for Agriprocessors complained of child labor, sexual and physical abuse by supervisors, underpayment, and severe health and safety abuses.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division had been coordinating its investigation with ICE up until the raid, which was staged without any prior notice to the Labor Department.

ICE pursued the raid using the workers’ complaints of the company’s wrongdoings as a basis. The agency’s warrant affidavit even recited allegations that a supervisor “duct-taped the eyes of an employee” and then “took one of the meat hooks” to hit a worker. The agency had also received notification from a union that it should avoid investigating the company while working people at the slaughterhouse were trying to join together to blow the whistle on deplorable working conditions.

One of the managers of the plant (and the son of the owner), Sholom Rubashkin, was eventually sentenced to 27 years in federal prison on charges stemming from the raid. But on December 20, 2017, President Trump commuted Rubashkin’s sentence, after he had served less than a third of his prison term.

Rubashkin’s case is not the only time Trump has used his pardon powers to let off a serial abuser of immigrants. In August 2017, Trump pardoned former Maricopa County, Arizona Sherriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted of criminal contempt for ignoring a judge’s order to stop racially profiling and detaining Latinos simply on the suspicion that they did not have legal status. Arpaio gained notoriety for the inhumane conditions that he forced inmates of the jail he ran to live in, including a “tent city” prison in the Arizona heat.

These cases suggest that, in Trump’s America, immigrants have no right to hold a job free from abuse and suffering. In Trump’s America, people who have abusing immigrants like Sholom Rubashkin and Joe Arpaio can trust they will have their rights restored, while immigrants aren’t given a chance to speak up for themselves in court. In Trump’s America, judicial appointees can use their positions to freely shield corporations and the wealthiest few while denying immigrants the freedoms they should be able to exercise. In Trump’s America, instead of the government obtaining justice for immigrants who protest unlawful working conditions, they face drastic reprisals and deportations. And in Trump’s America, greedy CEOs can make piles of money by abusing immigrants, assured that Trump will bail them out if they are exposed.

With a few exceptions, our courts have so far stood as a bulwark against some of the worst attempts by Trump to dehumanize immigrants. If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed, Trump will have an ally on the highest court in the land as he continues his campaign to deny immigrants their fundamental human rights.

A broad array of Americans are uniting together to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. You can join in this campaign by sending a message to your Senators now!

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision this morning, Jobs With Justice Executive Director Sarita Gupta issued the following statement:

“We are devastated by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Trump v. Hawaii case. This decision allows the travel ban targeting Muslims to be the law of our land. The verdict enables the hate-based politics of a few to be the official policy over the many who value dignity, liberty, and freedom.

“Justice Sotomayor’s dissent rings loud in our ears today: ‘The United States of America is a Nation built upon the promise of religious liberty. Our Founders honored that core promise by embedding the principle of religious neutrality in the First Amendment. The Court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle.’

“Trump’s election, and his travel ban, have exacerbated Islamaphobic attacks on Muslim communities in this country. Many perpetrators of hate crimes against Muslims have invoked Trump’s name, his policies, or his campaign slogans during their attacks. The Supreme Court’s decision will encourage these perpetrators to continue and further rationalize their hateful, xenophobic behaviors.

“Muslims are one of the many communities under attack by the Trump administration. The president has waged a full-scale war on immigrants, from ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and temporary protected status (TPS), to ordering mass deportations. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly each defended a policy of separating children from their parents; and the President of the United States openly dehumanized undocumented Americans by calling them “animals.” We will continue to resist Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Black, white supremacist agenda.

“Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We must band together and recommit to combating attacks against freedom and humanity. We must fight back now more than ever and stand up against racial injustice and oppression everywhere, and save our nation’s soul. We urge you to join us today in denouncing this decision.”


There is mass outrage over Donald Trump’s racist comments bemoaning immigrants that come to America from Haiti and places throughout Africa, rather than a country like Norway. His immigration agenda is shaping up to be as racist as his rhetoric, and progressives need to double down on their efforts to resist those policies.

This week, the Administration raided 7-Eleven stores across the nation and detained more than twenty immigrants. The raids’ appeal to white supremacy is clear. It’s a popular stereotype that 7-Eleven franchises are owned and operated by Indians – often Muslim Indian immigrants. And it’s not hard to find recent examples of racists verbally or physically attacking 7-Eleven store clerks.

Worksite raids are one of the worst types of immigration law enforcement. The immigrants caught in these sweeps are detained immediately, and separated from their families, sometimes leaving children to head home to an empty house after school. Raids also provide leverage to unscrupulous employers who exploit their undocumented immigrant workforce. These bosses say, “Complain about being paid sub-minimum wage and unsafe working conditions, or try to organize a union and we will call immigration authorities to pick you up.” They now can use what happened at 7-Eleven to add to their threats.

The Administration revoked the legal status of more than 200,000 El Salvadoran immigrants this week. Many of these people lived and worked in this country for two decades and have children who are U.S. citizens. There is little rationale for this action that was opposed by myriad Republicans, Democrats, and media outlets.

Trump’s shitty comments are aligned with his push for a white supremacist immigration agenda. He cancelled protections for DREAMers last fall, which was another opportunity for his Administration to deport more brown and Black people. A bipartisan group of senators has been working on a deal to ensure that DREAMers can remain in this country. A clean DREAM Act would restore DREAMers’ legal status, allow them to work and go to college in the United States, and provide them a path to citizenship. But the senators acceded to Trump’s requests that a deal limit DREAMers’ ability to reunite with their families once they gain legal status, limit or end the diversity visa lottery program, and include more money for immigration enforcement.

The senators affixed a provision to reinstate protections for immigrants from countries that had TPS status. When Trump heard this part of the deal, he exploded, rejected the deal, and made his “shithole countries” comment.

The rational conclusion appears to be that there is no way for progressives to negotiate with the Trump administration on immigration. If we consent to one racist demand, Trump in turn will make another.

In the weeks since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump Administration would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, many corporate executives, especially in the technology sector, have issued statements in defense of the nearly 800,000 young people who have been able to work or go to school without fear since President Obama first put the DACA program in place. But while these tech companies claim to be committed to protecting Dreamers, they fail to mention their role in pushing tech careers farther out of reach for immigrants and all working people.

The H-1B guest worker visa program permits companies to sponsor employees for temporary work in the United States. It allows corporations to recruit highly skilled employees when they cannot find qualified hires in the U.S. But without strong oversight or regulations, corporations are not required to look for qualified applicants in the U.S. first, and can use H-1B visas to replace existing employees. So in reality, tech companies, public utilities and other corporations have taken advantage of the program to facilitate outsourcing and turn once-desirable careers in technology and IT into temporary, unsustainable jobs.

Though top tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Apple might argue they use the H-1B program to attract the “best and brightest,” all signs point to their real interest in attracting cheaper, more exploitable sources of labor. The industry’s widespread use of the visa program brings wages down and lowers work standards for everyone in tech. Remember, these same corporations colluded to limit recruitment of each other’s employees in order to depress wage growth. Additionally, tech companies frequently do not sponsor permanent status for their H-1B employees, leaving these workers reliant on their employers to remain in the United States. H-1B employees have few legal rights and are less likely to speak up against abuses at work or support campaigns to join together in union, which might explain why Silicon Valley executives are so keen on expanding the program.

While it is critical for everyone to fight to restore legal protections for Dreamers and win permanent protection for all 11 million undocumented people in this country, tech companies that truly want to support Dreamers must also commit to creating good, family-sustaining careers. In an industry plagued by concerns about diversity in technical positions, executives should be taking steps to expand the number of permanent positions open to Black and Brown applicants, including Dreamers, not to limit them.

As Silicon Valley and the entire tech sector join the fight for dignity and protection for those living without documentation, they must do so without ulterior motives. We should reform the H-1B program to protect visa holders and the entire U.S. workforce, not to take advantage of a low-road outsourcing model. After all, if H-1B is allowed to expand unchecked and even more careers are outsourced into temporary, precarious jobs, where are Dreamers supposed to work?

As the Trump administration aggressively ramps up deportations, community advocates are coming together to protect their immigrant co-workers, friends, and neighbors. More worksite raids are expected as part of Trump’s overreaching immigration enforcement efforts. Union organizers, labor and human rights advocates, and grassroots activists need to be equipped with best practices to respond to anyone impacted by a workplace raid. Even rumors of raids can destabilize communities, silence whistleblowers from speaking out against abuse on the job, and reduce the chances that people will unite together for a better life.

Jobs With Justice has created an online information sharing portal to post and exchange resources to defend workers’ rights against trumped-up immigration enforcement. Our hub features a variety of materials to support immigrants in the workplace, guidance on building rapid response teams to prepare for raids, tools for organizing local business and employers in dealing with ICE, proactive policy and advocacy solutions to implement, and more.

To gain access to the hub, connect with community and labor organizers across the country, and be alerted to upcoming trainings, contact Natalie at jwj dot org.

Zully Palacios and Enrique Balcazar are activists with Migrant Justice to improve the living and working conditions of farmworkers across the state. Enrique leads the #MilkWithDignity campaign, calling on Ben & Jerry’s to commit its dairy farm suppliers to providing dignified conditions for farmworkers. The two Vermont advocates also organize teach-ins, host community forums, and are vocal about creating better lives for their fellow neighbors.
By all accounts, Zully and Enrique are model community citizens and activists. Neither of them has a criminal record. But they were arrested last month.

Human rights, labor and immigration groups attested that officers targeted the pair due to their social activism. After local groups, including Jobs With Justice affiliates Vermont Workers’ Center and Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, mounted protests and a legal defense fund, a judge released Enrique and Zully last week.

This type of retaliation against community leaders, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident. Reports have surfaced within the last six weeks that immigration enforcement officials in Mississippi, Oregon, and New York have arrested active immigrant rights organizers and supporters Individuals who spoke out publicly or participated in community meetings. It appears that some immigration offices, perhaps emboldened by the Trump administration’s aggressive and overreaching policies, are pursuing those who criticize him.

The Trump administration’s actions are distressing to anyone who cares about our citizens and our abilities to exercise our rights and civil liberties. Dissent is a vital part of our democracy. The right to free speech is protected by The U.S. Constitution protects the right to free speech—and that right isn’t limited only to citizens or those with documentation. Hunting down people simply for being active in their communities betrays our values and rights to speak out in a democratic society.

Retaliation against immigrant activists follows the trend of Republicans pushing anti-protest bills in several states, which either floundered or were immediately shot down as unconstitutional. If the trend of local and federal authorities curbing protests continues, we can’t ignore the chilling effect.

Ellen Schwartz, president of the Vermont Workers’ Center, explained that Enrique’s arrest was “designed to sow fear within the immigrant community, pushing workers into the shadows where they are susceptible to exploitation and abuse. Left unchallenged, the perception of reprisal surrounding his arrest will create harmful ripple effects for undocumented workers, and indeed for all people exercising free speech rights in support of vulnerable groups, not only in Vermont but across the country.”

The damaging effect of Trump’s policies is not merely theoretical. News reports have surfaced revealing that immigrants who were once comfortable joining together and speaking up for better workplaces won’t come forward now due to the administration’s stance on immigration. Some say they are too afraid to collect back wages that are rightly due to them after the Department of Labor found their employers guilty of stealing their pay, for fear of being deported.

Like many of Trump’s plans, his immigration agenda benefits corporations that don’t want to ensure safe workplaces or pay fair wages. Punishing whistleblowers and community activists only will embolden disreputable employers, making it easier for them to exploit and mistreat the people who work for them, regardless of their status.

Immigrant and labor activists aren’t backing away from demands for sustainable jobs, healthy communities, and a brighter future for our children, despite retaliatory attempts to stop them. On May Day, more than 100 communities will march, protest, and strike against Trump’s attacks on working people and immigrants, to send a loud message of solidarity and resistance. Now that Zully and Enrique are free, they will continue their advocacy efforts with Migrant Justice, working to ensure Ben and Jerry’s follows through on its promise to farmworkers.

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