Social Justice Monday: Invisible Borders Barriers to Justice in the Workplace for Immigrant and Refugee Workers

Social Justice Monday–March 7, 2016

Submitted by Jeanna McLellan, Electronic Services Assistant

We know that injustice and power imbalances in the workplace can be common. But what if you have come to the US from another country and are unfamiliar with the legal system here? What if English is your second or third language and you cannot communicate your complaints?  What if your supervisor targets you because he or she believes you cannot stand up for yourself?

At today’s Social Justice Monday, attorneys and community organizers discussed unique barriers that immigrant and refugee workers face at the workplace. Today’s panelists included Cariño Barragán Talancon from Casa Latina, Marsha Chien from the WA Attorney General’s Office, Civil Rights Unit; Diego Rondon Ichikawa ’13 from the Washington Wage Claim Project, and Andrés Muñoz ’15, the Seattle University Frances Perkins Fellow at the Unemployment Law Project. Each panelist offered their own insight into the issues discussed below.

Andres Munoz engages in outreach to immigrant and refugee workers. Munoz discussed how the Unemployment Law Project is not the only group assisting immigrant and refugee populations, and how they can get referrals to the many other groups through the Unemployment Law Project. Munoz also discussed how specific areas of law may fall short of helping immigrants and refugees, since administrative judges have discretion to make dicisions.

Cariño Barragán Talancon assists with day laborers and domestic laborers at Casa Latina—which offers classes in ESL and workers rights—program in wage theft. Talancon works as mediator between restaurant workers, construction workers and employers. The program at Casa Latina helps employees recover unpaid wages. Talancon discussed how government agencies ask too much of the workers who have language barriers and immigration barriers. Talacon suggested that workers, documented or not,  have the same rights.

Marsha Chien provided a three point discussion on discrimination and the intersection of immigration and employment law: 1. Immigration law and employment law are inter-connected. 2. Retaliation is real—it is a real fear—employers use this against employees. 3. Policy impacts immigrants—there are so many ways that immigrants lives are not thought of in our system—it impacts immigrants differently. Ie., English only, No hats, etc.

Diego Rondon Ishikawa discussed his work with construction workers who are never paid overtime-pay. Often they are told that they do not get overtime pay because they are undocumented, illegal workers. For restaurant workers, they may get 40 hours on the paycheck and then paid cash for overtime but not at time-and-a-half. The biggest barrier to the workers getting fair pay is fear—they are undocumented. There are laws to protect them, but the likelihood is that they will get fired.

Interested in learning more? Here are some related books and a movie available in the Law Library:

Human rights and refugees, internally displaced persons, and migrant workers: Essays in memory of Joan Fitzpatrick and Arthur Helton

By Anne F. Bayefsky & Joan Fitzpatrick

LAW-4th Floor (KZ6530.H86 2006)

From Publisher:

An extraordinary volume with 28 of the world’s leading refugee and human rights scholars and advocates in a wide-ranging examination of the major issues in the field today: the theoretical challenges of international protection; lessons learned from the field including Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan; jurisprudential responses from courts and treaty bodies on the rights and responsibilities of protection; due process issues from Europe, Canada and the United States, and the special needs of migrant workers. The book brings together a unique group of experts including UNHCR officials, legal academics and practitioners, and uniquely tackles these crucial subjects from the perspectives of theory, legal practice, and advocacy.


Marginal Workers How Legal Fault Lines Divide Workers and Leave Them without Protection

By Ruben J. Garcia

From the Publisher:

Undocumented and authorized immigrant laborers, female workers, workers of color, guest workers, and unionized workers together compose an enormous and diverse part of the labor force in America. Labor and employment laws are supposed to protect employees from various workplace threats, such as poor wages, bad working conditions, and unfair dismissal. Yet as members of individual groups with minority status, the rights of many of these individuals are often dictated by other types of law, such as constitutional and immigration laws. Worse still, the groups who fall into these cracks in the legal system often do not have the political power necessary to change the laws for better protection.

In Marginal Workers, Ruben J. Garcia demonstrates that when it comes to these marginal workers, the sum of the law is less than its parts, and, despite what appears to be a plethora of applicable statutes, marginal workers are frequently lacking in protection. To ameliorate the status of marginal workers, he argues for a new paradigm in worker protection, one based on human freedom and rights.


Bread and Roses

Directed by Ken Loach


Maya is an undocumented worker who has crossed the U.S. border from Mexico to search for her sister Rosa, and to begin a new life. After being reunited, Rosa gets Maya a job with a janitorial service in a large office building. While working, Maya happens upon Sam Shapiro, a muckraking lawyer and union agitator whom the service-workers‘ union has assigned to bring its “justice for janitors” campaign to the building. Appalled at the work conditions and unfair labor practices, Maya and Sam team up to fight her employer.
Originally released as a motion picture in 2000.