As Attitudes Shift, More Workers Face Immigration Threats From Employers

Immigration advocates say more and more workers are being threatened with deportation by employers. Ted Chen reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018.

(Published Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018)

TheCalifornia Labor Commissioner's Office says there's a growing trend of employers warning workers to do what they're told or face deportation.

Immigrant rights advocates say they're seeing these threats happening more because attitudes have changed against immigrants. Now, the Labor Commissioner's Office is suing on behalf of a construction worker who says he didn't get paid and was threatened.

2017 Southern California Images in the News

The construction worker's case isn't unique — many of the new complaints are coming from workers in that field. Employment rights attorney Sebastian Sanchez is representing one worker who says when he tried to get paid for the tile work at a home in Arcadia, his boss threatened deportation.

"If you want to cause any trouble, just know my family is connected to the sheriff's office and I bet you wouldn't want a call to ICE," Sanchez said his client was told.

Sanchez is now helping the state labor commission sue that employer, who did not respond to requests for comment.

The Labor Commission's office says deportation threats coming from employers have increased sharply, from seven in 2015 to 20 in 2016 to 94 in 2017. Sanchez blames the spike in threats on anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from President Donald Trump and promises by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to increase raids in so-called sanctuary cities like Los Angeles.

"The ramifications of the current climate have really been very broad and have had a real impact on workers' lives," Sanchez said.

Industries with high numbers of undocumented immigrants, like construction and garment workers and farm laborers, are especially at risk, Sanchez said. His clients tell him that when they have raised workplace concerns, their employers have said things like, "So you want to continue this, OK, let me contact ICE."

A worker's immigration status, however, is irrelevant under California and federal law, Sanchez said. "If you work, you have a right to be paid."