Are You Entitled to Protections as an Undocumented Worker?

We’ve written at length in previous posts about the legal protections workers have from discriminatory treatment based on race, gender, religion or other personal traits. However, many undocumented workers must contend with such treatment—including unfairly low or lost wages, harassment and other labor law violations in the workplace—and they’re too afraid of potential repercussions to speak out.

Food service, construction and farming are the labor industries with the highest number of undocumented workers. In recent months, we’ve seen increasing news stories of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers raiding such places of business and arresting undocumented staff. This has created an atmosphere in which workers are afraid that just going to work may put their safety at risk.

However, some grassroots organizations are developing innovative ways to create safe, respectful workplaces for undocumented workers—who total nearly 8 million people in the American workforce. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) has started the sanctuary restaurants initiative—a project designed to protect the rights of undocumented workers in the food service industry.

Under the initiative, ROC United encourages restaurants around the country to sign on as “sanctuary restaurants.” This label conveys a commitment of protection to an establishment’s workforce. Sanctuary restaurants promise that all workers will be treated with respect, will receive equitable wages and opportunities for promotion and be entitled to benefits. Such employers also provide training to undocumented workers about their rights and courses of action, if ICE officials approach them.

Sanctuary restaurants represent one important step in creating an equitable workforce. Regardless of status, no worker deserves to be exploited, threatened or treated with discrimination at work. If you’re an undocumented worker, it’s worth consulting with an employment attorney to better understand your rights on the job.