Immigrant workers came together Saturday at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, taking part in workshops to learn how to better protect themselves from abuse from employers.
"Wage thefts, health and safety violations, discrimination, sexual harassment on the job. All those things are very common," Cal Soto said. Soto is the workers' rights coordinator for the National Day Labor Organizing Network, which hosted the all-day event Saturday.
Advocates say immigrant workers often face challenges. Employers often violate labor laws by using the immigrant worker's status against them.
In July, the Department of Labor released a policy that could lead to protection for many of these workers.
The policy allows for immigrant workers to report an employer. If the department chooses to investigate, the worker could be temporarily granted protection from deportation while the investigation is underway. It’s a protection advocates want to see broadly extended.
"Workers have been exploited left and right and we haven’t found in the immigrant rights movement the way to connect labor movement to the immigrant rights movement," Jorge Torres, the national campaign strategist for NDLON, said.
Advocates now are calling on the Department of Homeland Security to release policy on the process that would solidify that same protection through their agency for any immigrant workers facing abuse from an employer.
"How about instead we open the doors to as many of the most vulnerable workers possible?" Soto said. "So we can identify those bad employers more quickly, hold them accountable and have more workers come forward to be able to make sure we get rid of the worst employers, and raise up the employers who are doing the right thing."
Advocates say these policies would also protect the labor market, assuring that employers are not unfairly driving down their costs and creating disadvantages for competing employers who are following labor laws.
In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said that they are taking "several steps to facilitate the enforcement of labor standards at worksites, ensuring that all workers are able to assert their rights and hold exploitative employers accountable."
"DHS will continue to work towards bolstering its relationships with labor enforcement agencies and strengthening its processes to ensure that America’s worksites comply with our laws," the department said in a statement.