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Employment Discrimination Against Immigrants: Overview

The United States takes pride in its heritage as a nation of immigrants. However, migrants still face various discrimination-related challenges. One area of concern is workplace discrimination.

Federal and state laws protect immigrant workers against unfair employment practices. They also address some challenges they may face as immigrants in the United States.

This article discusses:

Laws That Protect Immigrants Against Employment Discrimination

Federal anti-discrimination laws apply to:

  • Employers with 15 or more employees
  • Employment agencies
  • Employee-union apprentice programs
  • Unions
  • Federal agencies
  • State agencies

Several laws and agencies protect workers' rights, specifically for immigrants. Some of the most prominent are the INA and Title VII.

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) protects individuals with the proper employment authorization. These individuals include the following:

  • Permanent Residents
  • Temporary Residents
  • Asylees
  • Refugees

The Department of Justice's Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) enforces the INA. The IER also investigates claims of immigration-related employment discrimination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment activities. These activities include:

  • Hiring and other employment decisions
  • Firing
  • Promotions and demotions
  • Pay
  • Benefits

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates complaints filed under these rules.

Equal Employment Opportunity (Executive Order 11246)

Executive Order 11246 focuses on federal contractors and subcontractors. This order applies to businesses with contracts to give services or goods to the state or federal government.

It bans discrimination in hiring based on the following:

  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

These business entities must provide equal employment opportunities in their workplace.

Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) protects individuals against discrimination. The protection extends to U.S. citizens and other individuals with work authorization. It shields them from discrimination based on national origin or citizenship status.

Types of Employment Discrimination Against Immigrants

Federal law recognizes four main types of discrimination experienced by immigrants:

  • Citizenship status discrimination
  • National origin discrimination
  • Unfair documentary practices
  • Retaliation or intimidation

Discrimination Based on Citizenship Status

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) prohibits discrimination based on U.S. citizenship or immigration status. This rule applies to employers with four or more employees. With only a few exceptions, businesses and employers cannot limit employment to U.S. citizens.

Discrimination Based on National Origin

Immigration law prohibits employers from treating individuals differently because of their:

  • Actual or assumed national origin
  • Ancestry
  • Ethnicity
  • Country of origin
  • Place of birth
  • Native language

Employers cannot treat you differently because you look or sound foreign to them. These rules apply to employers with 15 or more employees.

There are also laws relating to microaggression that overlap with this issue. Microaggression is nonverbal, verbal, and environmental insults, slights, or snubs. It is committed whether the act is intentional or unintentional. Oftentimes, it is done by communicating derogatory, hostile, or antagonistic messages to another. Such a message is often based solely on the person being a part of a marginalized group.

Unfair Documentary Practice

Employers must follow specific rules when requesting work authorization verification. Regardless of the size of the business, employers are not allowed to:

  • Ask for more or different documents than necessary
  • Request specific types of documents
  • Reject genuine documents because of the employee's citizenship, immigration status, or national origin

In other words, they cannot insist that applicants produce more documents than the law requires.

Retaliation or Intimidation

Unfortunately, immigrants who report their employers' unlawful practices often face retaliation. Employers know that undocumented workers fear deportation, and some take advantage of the undocumented immigrant status of the employee.

For example, let's say you want to report discrimination happening at your workplace. Your boss finds out and threatens to call immigration authorities. Calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for this reason is illegal.

Employers of any size cannot coerce, intimidate, threaten, or retaliate against an employee who has:

  • Filed charges with the IER
  • Cooperated with an investigation conducted by the IER
  • Opposed an unfair documentary practice
  • Committed discrimination based on citizenship status or national origin
  • Asserted their rights under the anti-discriminatory provisions of the INA

New York and California have also passed bills to address this issue. However, this protection is not uniform across 50 states.

E-Verify's Role in Protecting Workers' Rights

Employers can face penalties for hiring undocumented workers.

E-verify is an online system that U.S. employers use to check employment eligibility. It compares Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) records.

What Should You Do if You Experience Workplace Discrimination?

You can file a complaint against an employer discriminating based on immigration status. The charges depend on the type of discrimination. You may file it with the Immigrant and Employee's Rights (IER) Section of the Department of Justice, or you can file it with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

You must file IER complaints within 180 days of the alleged incident. For an EEOC complaint, you must file within 300 calendar days.

For more information about filing a discrimination claim, visit this USCIS website.

Are You Facing Workplace Discrimination? Seek Legal Advice

Everyone deserves fair and unbiased treatment at work, including immigrants and noncitizens. Learning about your rights and the critical employment laws that apply to your case is crucial. Consult an employment law attorney if you or your family members face workplace discrimination. They can assist you with understanding your employment eligibility.

Employment attorneys can help you file discrimination claims or address poor working conditions. Their expertise covers both Department of Labor regulations and other federal employment laws.

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