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Study: Feds extend 'don't ask, don't tell' to illegal workers

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Immigration,Border Security,EEOC,ICE,Unaccompanied Minors

Labor officials investigating workplace abuse complaints from undocumented workers purposely overlook the immigration status of illegals to punish harsh employers, even if it means refusing to identify an illegal to immigration authorities, according to a groundbreaking study.

The eight-year study published in the September issue of the authoritative Sociological Perspectives finds that federal and state labor authorities take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” view of illegal workers and believe that it is more important to protect the employment rights of illegals than help fellow immigration authorities find and deport the undocumented workers.

Study author Shannon Gleeson, associate professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said the labor officials "proactively employ a status-blind approach not because they have a particular affinity toward undocumented workers, but rather because this population is the linchpin of the agency’s ability to achieve its enforcement goals."

The study, begun in 2006, revealed the internal fight among agencies over their role in handling the U.S. immigration crisis. It is titled: “Means to an end: An assessment of the status-blind approach to protecting undocumented worker rights.” An earlier version was published online.

While she found that police are eager to capture illegals, labor enforcement authorities from agencies including EEOC, Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board, overlook the immigration status of illegals if it means they can identify and punish employers breaking federal labor rules.

For her study, she interviewed 25 state and federal labor officials in both Houston, Texas, and San Jose, Calif., about how they handle workplace complaints from illegals. She expected to find that illegal immigrants were handled more harshly in conservative Texas, but found little difference.

Instead, she found that the labor authorities were more interested in protecting their turf and enforcing their set of rules and laws than helping law enforcement with theirs.

For example, in Texas, one labor official said that if an illegal laborer filed a employer complaint, they wouldn’t ask for a green card, driver’s license or Social Security card. The reason: It’s not their job and they believe that the best way to protect any worker is to protect all workers, regardless of immigration status.

"Bureaucrats discuss enforcing the rights of undocumented workers as simply a means to an end, not a value-driven discretionary act. This 'don’t ask, don’t tell' approach is facilitated by the institutional distinction between determining whether a claimant’s rights have been violated and determining whether a remedy is warranted," said the study.

State and federal labor officials also push back when employers try to deflect complaints by claiming the worker is illegal and should be deported. The reason: "That leaves the door wide open for employers to be unscrupulous," wrote Gleeson in the report made available to Secrets.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.