Immigrant whistleblowers don’t have to answer questions about status

One of the most pernicious forms of exploitation today is the abuse of undocumented immigrant workers. It has been a long time since our immigration laws matched the aspiration of the Statue of Liberty, and millions of immigrant workers are forced into an undocumented status that leaves them vulnerable to all manner of violations.

This week, the Superior Court for the District of Columbia set a bright line of protection for immigrants seeking to vindicate their rights on the job. The Court barred the employer’s lawyers from asking the plaintiffs and witnesses any questions about their immigration status.  The lawyers are not allowed to ask about "immigration status, birthplace, entry into the United States, social security numbers or cards, a “green card” or alien residence card, passports, driver’s licenses, and any other inquiry intended to elicit information with regard to the immigration status of a plaintiff, witness, or person affiliated with a plaintiff or witness in this case."

This is such an important issue for low-wage immigrant workers. So many are afraid to pursue legal remedies. The potential immigration consequences are just so severe. This discovery holding should give immigrants and their advocates the foundation they need to remedy  violations or workers’ rights.  It should give immigrant whistleblowers the ability to pursue their whistleblower claims without fear of having to answer questions about their immigration status. The case is Destefano v. Children’s National Medical Center, Case No. 2010 CA 001935 B.

Congratulations to Destefano’s attorney, Dawn Martin, of Washington, DC.  I particularly appreciate how her brief did a masterful job of working in the Padilla v. Kentucky and INS v. St. Cyr decisions on page 11. I also appreciate her thorough canvass of other court decisions protecting immigrant parties from discovery about their immigration status.You can also read her reply brief here.

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