This morning I had the privilege to join Attorney General Lynch and our colleagues from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at a Special Naturalization Ceremony to congratulate 55 women and men – from 40 countries across five continents – on becoming American citizens.
At the ceremony, I spoke about how diversity is America’s strength – how we are a nation of immigrants, a nation that promises equal opportunity and a nation founded upon the timeless ideal and firm belief that all people, regardless of color or creed, deserve a fair chance to succeed. As the daughter of Indian immigrants and the wife of a Vietnamese refugee, I know firsthand the protections, opportunities and freedoms our country provides at its brightest and at its strongest. And the Civil Rights Division that I have the privilege to lead today is dedicated to making these protections a reality for all people.
Department of Justice
This month, we’re celebrating an important anniversary of our work. Thirty years ago, Congress passed, and President Reagan signed, a momentous law called the Immigration Reform and Control Act. This law created the Division’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC). We work to combat discrimination against lawful, authorized immigrants and U.S. citizens as well as creatively engage with the public to make sure victims know where to turn for help.
Last fiscal year, we collected a record $1.75 million in civil penalties from employers large and small discriminating against workers because of their citizenship, immigration status or national origin. We’ve launched partnerships with Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico to conduct joint outreach and ensure that workers in the U.S. know their rights. And we also operate a toll-free hotline for workers with discrimination concerns or questions (1-800-255-7688). Making sure workers around the country know about OSC and our resources to protect them can change lives for the better.
Take the story of Hugo Ramirez, a lawful permanent resident working for a health care provider who lost his job because of an error with E-Verify. Hugo was unable to work for more than a year while he tried to resolve the matter. “The humiliation that I went through trying to get this resolved. My savings were gone, my 401(k) was gone, my car was gone – I didn’t know what to do.” After resolving his E-Verify issue with the aid of an OSC staffer, Hugo found another job as the director of business development for a health care provider in California. In his words, OSC’s efforts to resolve the issue “gave me my livelihood back.”
Hugo Reyes, who has worked as a machine operator on an oil rig for the past 10 years, is from El Salvador and has Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows him to live and work in the United States. This past August, Hugo’s employer approached him about the upcoming expiration of his Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and told Hugo he would be fired from his job if he couldn’t provide a new EAD. However, the government had automatically extended the EADs of TPS beneficiaries like Hugo for an additional six months beyond the expiration date on the face of the card. After speaking with Hugo on OSC’s worker hotline, an OSC staff member called the employer to explain the six-month TPS automatic extension as announced in the Federal Register. Hugo’s employer decided to allow Hugo to continue working without showing a new unexpired EAD in light of the automatic extension of his current EAD. As Hugo explained, “Your life is so much better when you don’t have these issues hanging over you. If I hadn’t spoken to your office, I would have lost my job.” Today, Hugo remains employed at the same company.
Santos, who is also from El Salvador and has TPS, was approached by her employer about the upcoming expiration of her EAD and told she would be fired from her job if she wasn’t able to provide her employer with a new unexpired EAD. “Can you imagine? Losing your job like that at the snap of someone’s fingers because they don’t understand the law,” Santos asked. After speaking with Santos on OSC’s worker hotline, an OSC staff member called Santos’ employer to explain the six-month TPS automatic extension. Santos’ employer decided to allow her to continue working without showing a new unexpired EAD in light of the automatic extension of her current EAD. Since then, every 18 months, for the past five years, Santos has faced the same issue with a few different employers, but now, she knows that OSC’s worker hotline will provide her with resources to resolve her situation. “I don’t have to worry about my future as an immigrant anymore. Whenever I have an issue with my immigration status, I know who to call – OSC.”
These stories above about the impact of OSC’s outreach work demonstrate our firm commitment to ensuring workers know their rights. Because when workers know their rights, together, we can more effectively defend the diversity of America. Defending diversity changes lives. It strengthens our economy. And it transforms our country for the better.