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New laws bar threats against illegal immigrants

The TRUST Act wasn’t the only immigration-related bill that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law this weekend: Others could cost businesses their business licenses and hefty fines if they threaten workers based on their immigration status.

SB 666 by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg makes it illegal to report or threaten to report workers’ immigration or citizenship status, or that of their family, in retaliation of an employee filing a complaint of unsafe working conditions, sexual harassment, or otherwise attempting to exercise his or her rights in the workplace.

Employers and businesses found violating this new law could be subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 per incident, and with business license suspension or revocation under certain conditions. Steinberg, D-Sacramento, issued a statement calling the new law “another tremendous victory for civil rights.”

“Workers deserve fairness and safe conditions when they go to their jobs every day without the fear of retaliation when they stand up for their rights. Our labor laws are supposed to protect all California workers, regardless of their immigration status,” he said. “When employers use threats and intimidation like this, the voice of workers is silenced and law-abiding businesses face unfair competition. This law will ensure justice.”

Steinberg said there’ve been many cases in which employers ignore immigration status when hiring, but then use threats of deportation when workers stand up for themselves. This new law prohibits that and clarifies that an employer can’t retaliate against an employee who makes a written or oral complaint regarding unpaid wages, adding a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for violations of California Labor Code Section 98.6.

“There are people every day who come into our office with valid claims (and) with valid complaints,” Michael Marsh, an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance, said in Steinberg’s news release. “Their rights have been violated and yet they’re afraid … Even when they’re told that they have these protections they don’t want to pursue these claims because they fear deportation. This is a persistent problem and I think it really needs to be addressed.”

In a similar vein, Brown also signed into law AB 524 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, which includes threats to report a person’s immigration status in the definition of extortion.

A recent National Employment Law Project report found labor violations and retaliation have become widespread in California’s low-wage labor market. Jose Mejia, director of the California State Council of Laborers, called the bill “a major step toward improving job quality in the low-wage jobs that fuel our state’s economy and to remove the ability of employers to use immigrant status for retaliation or other unlawful purposes.”

Mullin, D-San Mateo, noted “California is home to over one quarter of the immigrants who live in the United States. We have a civic obligation to ensure our laws adequately protect all people from exploitation and workplace retaliation based on immigration status.”

Brown also on Saturday signed:

    AB 35 by Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-West Covina – Provides that immigration consultants, attorneys, notaries public, and organizations accredited by the United States Board of Immigration Appeals are the only individuals authorized to charge a fee for providing services associated with filing an application under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s deferred action program.
    AB 1024 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego – Allows applicants, who are not lawfully present in the United States, to be admitted as an attorney at law.
    AB 1159 by Gonzalez – Imposes various restrictions and obligations on persons who offer services related to comprehensive immigration reform.
    SB 141 by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana – Requires that the California Community Colleges and the California State University, and requests that the University of California, exempt a United States citizen who resides in a foreign country, and is in their first year as a matriculated student, from nonresident tuition if the student demonstrates financial need, has a parent or guardian who was deported or voluntarily departed from the U. S., lived in California immediately before moving abroad, and attended a secondary school in California for at least three years.
    SB 150 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens – Authorizes a community college district to exempt pupils attending community colleges as a special part-time student from paying nonresident tuition.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.