Immigrant advocates say U.S. policy change endangers workers

FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2017, file photo, a flag is waved outside the White House, in Washington. The Trump administration is extending a ban on green cards issued outside the United States until the end of 202 and adding many temporary work visas to the freeze, including those used heavily by technology companies and multinational corporations. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
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Immigrant advocates in New Orleans claim in a federal lawsuit that federal rule changes made last year by the U.S. Department of Labor will make foreign workers fearful of reporting workplace abuses or human trafficking for fear of being deported.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Washington by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, deals with visas issued to protect workers from deportation when they report workplace crimes. The lawsuit says that last year, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division began requiring that applications for such visas, known as “U” and “T” visas, be referred to law enforcement agencies before they are approved.

“Conditioning certification on criminal law enforcement referral and approval has a chilling effect on fearful workers who are already reluctant to come forward and speak publicly about crimes occurring in their workplaces,” the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says.

“Previously, WHD required referral of the underlying crime, but provided discretion to determine when to do so, and required consideration of the petitioners’ safety,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit says the changes were illegally adopted without proper public notice and comment. It said the labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division also “failed to provide a rational reason for the policy change.” It asks a federal judge to declare the new policy was adopted in violation of the federal Administrative Procedures Act and to vacate it.

Federal lawyers had not filed a response as of Tuesday afternoon. The Wage and Hour Division did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.