By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Biden administration will speed up the deportation relief process for immigrants in the United States illegally who witness or experience labor abuses, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Friday.
The streamlined process, outlined in a new webpage, aims to encourage immigrants to cooperate with law enforcement investigations and shield them from possible employer retaliation.
"Unscrupulous employers who prey on the vulnerability of non-citizen workers harm all workers and disadvantage businesses who play by the rules," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. "We will hold these predatory actors accountable."
U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has won praise from labor leaders for his support of worker rights. The latest move received swift approval from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents nearly 2 million janitors, hospital workers and others.
"Today’s announcement benefits all of our members and all workers who are fighting for better working conditions, wages and the right to join together in unions," SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement.
Dozens of immigrants have received deportation relief, known as "deferred action," in recent years under an existing process aimed at protecting labor whistleblowers, a senior DHS official told Reuters.
DHS will now be promoting the process more aggressively and speeding up the time it takes to resolve a request.
"Our goal is to make it more accessible," the official said, requesting anonymity to discuss the new effort.
The policy springs from broader principles for immigration enforcement within workplaces outlined by Mayorkas in an October 2021 memo.
Mayorkas in the memo called for "delivering more severe consequences to exploitative employers" and for new policies to make workers more likely to cooperate with labor investigations.
Mayorkas also ordered the department to cease large-scale raids on workplaces, saying they discouraged workers from cooperating with investigations.
Such raids were a prominent part of Republican former President Donald Trump's approach to immigration enforcement.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Mark Porter and Marguerita Choy)