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.

  • Willis James

    I’m thinking Brown signing all of these bills gives him cover to veto the bill allowing non-citizens to serve on juries.
    AB 1401.
    We should know any day now.

  • In fact, he just vetoed it. Stand by for story…

  • Elwood

    What a great country where people acquire all these wonderful rights simply by illegally entering.

  • Willis James

    Thank God, that was the worst written bill I’ve seen in a long time. Bob Wieckowski should be ashamed of himself.

    As written, a person could arrive from Pakistan having lived his entire prior 65 years in the tribal regions and would be able to serve on a California jury the moment he stepped off the plane.

    Having no understanding of your cultural norms.

    Many people arrive with permanent residency status from day one. They don’t have to wait for a green card.

    The bill made no distinction between 10 days in the country or 10 years in the country.

    Bob Wieckowski was only interested in pandering to ethnic voters in his bid for state senator in 2014. Willing to sell out the citizens in his district.
    His only hope is that voters find Mary Hayashi even more disgusting.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Santa Anna, you are avenged!
    Arriba Mexico!

  • JohnW

    Right, Elwood. What’s this country coming to when a boss can’t even get away with abusing the help by threatening to expose them for the very thing that made the boss hire them in the first place?

    Actually, it is true that even people who are here illegally have many of the rights set forth in the Bill of Rights.

  • impoundguy

    Really another win for “Jerry’s Kids”….they’re using the same system to now protect “them”….that they abused and ignored to get here.. interesting double standard.

  • sactomike

    Wow, we now make it illegal for CA employers to obey federal law, while at the same time making it illegal for AZ police to enforce federal law. And, these bozos think Texas’ cessationists are crazy. What the hell?

  • sactomike

    Hey, numb nuts, federal law prohibits employers from hiring illegal aliens and punishes them if they fail to verify immigration status. You people should go live in Mexico (with the fourth highest murder rate in the world) and try to get away with half the stuff you support for the people who have snuck across our border.

  • sactomike

    Chinga tu Mexico

  • Don

    This bill is nothing more than two wrongs making a right.
    I’m a liberal and I can’t deal with this anymore. Are there any reasonable people in government anymore?

  • Publius

    Apparently you do not own an operate a business in California. The entire system errs in favor of the employee. Do you know how hard it is to fire some one, and not have them ding your unemployment account? Do you know how hard it is to fight fraudulent claims? Illegal or not the law in Ca. sides with the employee 90% of the time. This is an undisputable fact. Get out and ask a small business owner.

    Your claim that evil bosses hire illegals because they are illegal is simply not true. The labor market is bigger and more complex than your simple partisan talking point argument. The Rich white guy bad…..Poor brown guy good argument is old.

    When groups, like illegal aliens from Mexico receive special dispensation from the law, to procure political goodwill, our overall system suffers. The Democratic super majority is quickly turning Ca. into the land of men rather than a land of laws.

  • JohnW

    “Wow, we now make it illegal for CA employers to obey federal law…?”

    Seriously? I think you’re looking at this upside down. We’re talking about employers who deliberately BROKE the law by hiring the people in the first place. Then, they mistreat the workers in various ways and threaten to report them if they complain to the authorities.

    If we want to deport people who are here illegally, that’s one thing. But, as long as they are here, employers shouldn’t be able to subject them to unsafe or inhumane working conditions that are not permitted under our labor laws and blackmail the workers by threatening to report them. Two wrongs don’t make a right. But who are the real criminals here — the bully employers or the workers just trying to support their families?

    I’m not sure this is a good law. You always have to consider unintended consequences. But I think it tries to address a real problem.

  • Michael Davis

    “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.” You are not in the United States legally but it is OK to practice law? Man this state has lost its way. RIP California

  • Michael Renaissance Moynihan

    Ok, so first thing to note is that there are people living in the United States, whose parents were born in the United States and who themselves were born in the United States, but for particular reasons, say, they were not born in hospitals and lived in very rural areas and did not receive a Social Security number and thus are not considered American citizens; need to be considered.

    Second, our laws, the United States laws are what guarantee our liberties. However, regardless of one’s country of origin, those laws still need to apply because they appeal to a larger extent on the morality that is expected of United States citizens. So, this law, as the article says is a step in the right direction for civil rights. Tackling the entire immigration system would have been nearly impossible, but this is a small step in the right direction to ensuring and protecting the humanitarian rights that Americans so believe in.

    Regarding your particular question, there are means that they can use, like the article says, which is utilizing a third party to advocate for them, so that they are not deported for reporting the infringement of their civil liberties. However, you are right to assume that there is still the potential that their fears will be realized and they will be deported after they make the claim that they have been discriminated against.

    Nonetheless, I think that this is an important step because while it would have been too cumbersome and perhaps nearly impossible to tackle immigration law as a whole, this law allows the judicial system in California to hold employers accountable for what we in America consider to be inhumane actions and violations against civil liberties.

    Lastly, whether people like to accept it or not, our so-called “illegal immigrant” population serves a vital function in our society. Proof of this can be evinced solely in the fact that they are continuously hired. They fill the positions that American are too prideful to occupy or simply cannot afford to do, but need to be done nonetheless. I hate the term “ALIEN” because it implies that these people are not human and that they are not attributed what we considered to be “InAlienable Rights”. It is a classic political ploy that pits one group of people against another in a battle for apparently scarce (limited) resources. However, the resources are not as limited as we are led to believe they are, they are just controlled.

    If it is not apparent yet, I am in support of this law even though there are seeming drawbacks to it because morality does not apply to only United States citizens but to all people, and to allow immoral treatment of people is to be an immoral country with immoral laws.

  • Elwood

    Round ’em up, load ’em up, head ’em out!

    Adios, mofos!

  • JohnW

    Good luck with that scenario! If that’s your plan, you should rethink your low opinion of Obama, since he has done more deportations than his predecessors.

  • Elwood

    Even a clock that’s stopped is right twice a day.

  • JohnW

    Somehow I guessed that would be your comeback line.