Building Worker Power Through Deferred Action: A Report On The First Year
National Immigration Law Center
In the one year since the Biden administration’s January 13, 2023, announcement of new guidance on labor-based deferred action, the policy has already had a seismic impact on immigrants’ rights and workplace justice. The guidance, issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), empowers immigrant workers to file complaints with labor agencies, participate in labor investigations, and to build power together and with U.S.-born workers—without the fear of potential deportation hanging over their heads. As a result of this increased worker participation and solidarity, labor agencies have successfully enforced labor standards ranging from protections for fair wages to workplace safety to labor organizing.
The purpose of this report commemorating the one-year anniversary of the deferred action guidance is threefold. First, we celebrate the enormous impact the guidance has had by uplifting workers’ voices along with those of organizers and allies who shared how deferred action has made a meaningful difference in workplaces, lives, and communities. The report also includes several case studies that illustrate the success of the guidance in the enforcement of labor standards and how it has empowered workers to collectively push back against abusive and exploitative employers and corporations, many of which have outsized influence over the American economy and politics. Second, we report on the outcomes to date of National Immigration Law Center’s (NILC’s) “Our Rights, Our Work, Our Home” two-year campaign to support implementation of labor-based deferred action, which includes: training and technical assistance for advocates; co-creation of capacity-building models to maximize access; administrative advocacy with local, state, and federal agencies; direct legal representation; and a pilot project in partnership with 12 organizations with the goal of requesting deferred action for up to 100 workers nationwide.
Finally, even as we celebrate the positive impacts of this guidance, we acknowledge that its implementation to date is only one piece in the broader struggle for worker justice. Exploitation remains pervasive in American workplaces for both immigrant and citizen workers alike. While this guidance offers incredible potential to safeguard immigrant workers and reform American workplaces, the full scope of that potential cannot be realized without a deeper investment of resources for education, organizing, and legal representation, coupled with ongoing partnerships between workers and the agencies charged with protecting and enforcing workplace standards. Accordingly, this report offers recommendations for improving and expanding effective implementation of the guidance and ensuring the continued success of this critical tool in advancing worker and immigrant rights.