The issue of illegal immigrants, and their rights, is a hotly contested issue at both the Federal and State level. In an effort to address this issue, California, one of the “border states”, has struggled to enact legislation that is fair to both workers and employers. California legislators will attest to the difficulty in finding that balance. The state recently signed a new law (Assembly Bill 263) protecting undocumented workers from retaliations against protected actions. Assembly Bill 2751 has just been passed, amending the new law to limit the restrictions on employers who discipline workers for misrepresenting their personal information.
The original bill was intended to prevent unfair immigration-related practices which include threatening undocumented workers who complain about work conditions. The bill prohibits employers from filing police reports, reporting the worker to federal agencies or calling in immigration authorities to have them deported. Workers are also protected by law when they change their name lawfully, or submit a new social security number or federal employment authorization document. These provisions make it possible for workers to revise their immigration and work authorization status without being accused of making false statements and being terminated by their employers. The amendment clarifies that employers may discipline or terminate workers who make false statements not related to their immigration status. The law promises equitable relief and damages, penalties (of $10,000 per worker) and revocation of business licenses.
A recent Gallup poll said that immigration is considered by many, irrespective of political affiliations, as a very important problem facing America today. The definition of the problem changes depending on who you are talking to. Some see it as the failure to stop illegal immigration into the country through lax security at the borders. Others speak to the need to promote immigration to increase the availability of needed skills by providing work visas to qualified candidates from other countries. In both positions, legislators struggle to define the course to take with the 11 million (approx.) undocumented workers who are already in the country.
All along, employers were guided by the Federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (1986) which prohibited the employment of unauthorized workers and actually required their termination, if and when discovered. Now, this law upholds the right of all employees to the available protections, irrespective of immigration status.
The answer to these concerns is supposed to come in the form of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, balancing these two positions to strike a middle path.
Some developments in the wake of this proposed legislation would include:
Technology companies in America have always asked for more H1-B visas to be issued to meet their talent requirements. In the light of the emerging labor shortages at the global level, revamping America’s immigration system is the only way ahead for companies to meet their workforce needs in the short term. While we wait for the House of Representatives to consider the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, individual states will continue to struggle to enact and enforce laws that protect everyone’s rights – citizens and undocumented workers alike.
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