New city initiative promotes protection of immigrant workers' rights
The Immigrant Workers Academy, an initiative from the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, aims to educate and equip Philadelphia immigrant workers with the tools necessary to advocate for their rights in the workplace.
The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA) has announced a new initiative to support immigrants in safeguarding their rights in the workplace.
Symbol Lai, OIA deputy director, said at a media roundtable on Thursday that the new initiative — called the Immigrant Workers Academy — will begin with a pilot program in May focused on the Afro-Caribbean immigrant community, coordinated in partnership with the nonprofit organization Africom.
Lai said that due to distrust and anxiety heightened by the rhetoric and policies of the current federal administration, immigrant workers are more hesitant to report workplace violations and lodge complaints for fear of deportation and other repercussions related to their immigration status.
After fielding questions from concerned constituents and immigrant rights’ groups and organizations throughout the past year, the OIA has decided to address the issue through community outreach and education. The OIA and community partner organizations — including Nationalities Service Center, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, Community Legal Services, Philadelphia Area Cooperatives Alliance, Unite Here, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, in addition to Africom — will coordinate programs that include anti-discrimination and sexual harassment training, along with interpersonal and conflict resolution workshops designed to equip immigrant workers with the necessary tools for advocating for their rights. Lai said the Immigrant Workers Academy initiative will also provide support and training in how to navigate legal processes for documenting and reporting workplace violations.
The announcement of the initiative comes on the heels of the appointment of Caleb Arnold as Immigration Counsel to the District Attorney's Office on Thursday, in a move to protect immigrants who are witnesses to crime, have sought help from law enforcement, or face consequences that are "disproportionate" to non-violent criminal offenses, according to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
The OIA initiative and appointment of Arnold are the latest in citywide efforts to defend immigrants' rights. As a “Welcoming City,” as the Office of Immigrant Affairs describes Philadelphia’s policy on their website, city employees are not permitted to ask about the immigration or legal status of anyone they interact with, and in an even clearer affirmation of immigrants' rights in the workplace, the Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution in April 2017 “recognizing every person’s fundamental right to earn a living, regardless of immigration status, and affirming the City of Philadelphia’s commitment to protect and secure a safe and dignified workplace for all."
Nationwide, undocumented workers are reporting an increase in threats of deportation in response to workplace complaints since the Trump Administration began, while in some states Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) raids have strategically targeted specific businesses to identify and arrest undocumented workers.