Immigrant and labor advocates in the region welcomed the Biden administration’s announcement.
Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project said, “Workers in the Deep South face additional risks due to the region’s lack of state-based labor protections. … When immigrant workers can raise complaints and organize without fear of retaliation, labor standards rise for all workers.”
The new DHS policy follows other initiatives rolled out by the Biden administration to empower vulnerable migrant workers. Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor laid out its own process to support immigrant whistleblowers and encourage participation in workplace investigations.
On Friday, immigrant advocates said making it easier for undocumented workers to come forward could make a significant different in a city like Gainesville, where a sizable undocumented workforce helps power the local, nation-leading poultry industry.
In January 2021, Gainesville made national news when a preventable liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry plant claimed the lives of six workers, most of whom had immigrant backgrounds.
On the day of the leak, as law enforcement and first responders rushed to the scene. “Our folks ran for their lives not just because … it was impossible to breathe, but too because they were afraid in an instance like that, that they were going to be deported,” said Maria del Rosario Palacios, a former poultry worker and executive director of GA Familias Unidas, a mutual-aid group, in a 2022 online forum.
In the ensuing investigation, Palacios said some workers were granted protections from immigration enforcement actions on a case-by-case basis.
The new DHS policy formalizes and streamlines the process to seek relief, a “long-awaited development,” said Palacios on Friday.
The Sur Legal Collaborative, an immigrant and workers’ rights non-profit based in Atlanta, issued a statement saying, ”We know that every day, immigrant workers risk their lives to put food on our tables, clean and build our homes, and so much more. ... We must do everything in our power to ensure that employers who ... are abusing workers are held accountable. This requires that there be set protections for immigrant workers who experience workplace violations.”
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