Federal immigration agents have shown up twice at California labor dispute proceedings to apprehend undocumented workers, in what state officials believe may be cases of employer retaliation, the Los Angeles Times reports. However Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denies it is doing anything irregular.
The Labor Commissioner’s Office says that since November, ICE agents visited locations in Van Nuys and Santa Ana looking for workers who had brought claims against their employers.
In January, ICE also contacted a state official and asked for details about an ongoing investigation into labor violations at several construction sites across Los Angeles, according to Julie Su, the state’s labor commissioner and the agency’s head, The Times reports.
However, An ICE spokeswoman said the agency could not find evidence to confirm those visits.
State officials sent a memo in July instructing staff members to refuse entry to ICE agents who visit its offices to apprehend immigrants who are in the country without authorization, the newspaper reported.
Staff members should ask federal immigration agents “to leave our office, including the waiting room, and inform the agent(s) the labor commissioner does not consent to entry or search of any part of our office,” the memo said.
If agents refuse to leave, the memo tells employees, demand a search warrant signed by a judge before allowing them onto the premises.
“There is no doubt that allowing ICE to freely enter our office would have a substantial chilling effect on the willingness of workers to report violations and participate in our fight against wage theft,” Su said in an interview.
However, the Times also reports that ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said the agency canvassed its enforcement personnel in the Los Angeles area and received “no information to corroborate” claims that ICE agents visited two state labor offices “seeking specific individuals.”
“Consistent with its commitment to the fair and effective enforcement of federal hiring and immigration laws, the agency has longstanding guidelines and procedures designed to help ensure that ICE enforcement personnel do not become involved in labor disputes in the course of carrying out their mission,” Kice said.
The Labor Commissioner’s Office has 18 offices across the state, where workers can get restitution if they can prove their employer paid them less than the minimum wage. They can also file complaints against bosses who punish them for protesting their conditions.