February 19, 2021

Jobs With Justice: Citizenship Act’s Protections for Undocumented Workers Undermined by New ICE Guidelines


Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 

Contact: Nick Voutsinos, Jobs With Justice, nick@jwj.org, 717-4137613 

Jobs With Justice: Citizenship Act’s Protections for Undocumented Workers Undermined by New ICE Guidelines 

Washington, DC – Yesterday, President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats introduced their new immigration plan: The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. As well as providing an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the plan seeks to enact the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation (POWER) Act — a bill that would give undocumented workers protections to demand safer, fairer workplaces without fear of their employers using Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a weapon to retaliate. 

However, new interim ICE guidelines — also introduced yesterday by Biden’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — continues the previous administration’s dangerous framing of immigrants as threats and does little to lessen the constant fear immigrant communities suffer under the threat of ICE. These guidelines are at odds with the POWER protections intended to make immigrant workers feel safer and with the stated goals of the Citizenship Act. 

“As things currently stand, when workers try to speak up to report unsafe conditions, employers often use ICE as their own personal Pinkerton force,” said Jobs With Justice Senior Immigration Organizer Natalie Patrick-Knox. “We can see how this power dynamic plays out within our meatpacking plants, where essential immigrant workers endure horrid conditions out of fear of deportation, often contracting COVID-19 as a result. This trend will continue as long as we refuse to assure workers that they will be protected for speaking up and that ICE will not have unfettered access to worksites.” 

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrant meatpacking workers — who were deemed essential by the U.S. government — were packed into tight working conditions with little-to-no PPE and virtually no adherence to social distancing. Consequently, tens of thousands of these essential workers became sick with COVID-19, and hundreds died, as many had to make the impossible choice between working to keep food on the table or speaking out and risking deportation. 

“Supporting my family is the most important thing in my life and I can’t do anything to risk that,” said an Iowa-based Seaboard Triumph Meatpacking Worker. “My coworkers often talk about immigration raids that have happened in other plants and I can’t help but think that that can happen here — that if I speak up, that if we add fire to the flame, we may put ourselves and others at risk.” 

“The Biden administration promised to protect essential workers — that includes undocumented workers,” said Patrick-Knox. “But immigrants do not need promises. They need President Biden and DHS to rein in ICE. The fact is, President Biden cannot protect these workers, or enforce OSHA standards for that matter, as long as ICE has the power to interfere at any moment. We know the fear alone already interferes with workers coming forward to report unsafe conditions. Therefore, the Biden administration must work to create new DHS guidelines that not only immediately halt immigration enforcement within essential worksites, but also provide affirmative protections for workers who speak up.” 

Please send requests to speak with Jobs With Justice Senior Immigration Organizer Natalie Patrick-Knox, or with an affected worker, to nick@jwj.org. 


Jobs With Justice is the country’s leading nonprofit in the fight for workplace and economic democracy. Comprising a national network of local affiliates in nearly every state, Jobs With Justice brings together coalitions of unions, worker organizations, community groups, students, and faith institutions to win concrete improvements in people’s lives. 


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