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Last week, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided 98 7-Eleven stores throughout the US, arresting 21 people, including undocumented workers and franchise owners who were caught employing them. The point of the raids was not so much the arrests themselves, but rather a show of force intended to scare employers away from employing undocumented immigrant workers by demonstrating that the federal government was serious about cracking down on them, New York Times reporter Natalie Kitroeff noted earlier this week:
[A]ccording to law enforcement officials and experts with differing views of the immigration debate, a primary goal of such raids is to dissuade those working illegally from showing up for their jobs — and to warn prospective migrants that even if they make it across the border, they may end up being captured at work. Targeting 7-Eleven, a mainstay in working-class communities from North Carolina to California, seems to have conveyed the intended message.
“It’s causing a lot of panic,” said Oscar Renteria, the owner of Renteria Vineyard Management, which employs about 180 farmworkers who are now pruning grapevines in the Napa Valley. When word of the raids spread, he received a frenzy of emails from his supervisors asking him what to do if immigration officers showed up at the fields. One sent a notice to farmhands warning them to stay away from 7-Eleven stores in the area.
Employers in Northern California, in particular, are expected to be the targets of ICE’s next round of raids, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday, in what has been described as retaliation against the wave of “sanctuary” laws passed by numerous localities and the state of California limiting the degree to which local authorities can cooperate with federal agents in immigration enforcement. Another law passed last fall bars employers in the state from voluntarily allowing ICE agents onsite to conduct immigration inspections or to access employee records without a warrant or court order.
Protesters at a recent pro-DACA demonstration (AhXiong/Shutterstock.com)
Late on Tuesday, a federal judge in California issued an injunction blocking US President Donald Trump’s order winding down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought into the US as children, CNN reported on Wednesday:
Judge William Alsup also said the administration must resume receiving DACA renewal applications. But the ruling is limited — the administration does not need to process applications for those who have never before received DACA protections, he said. …
The ruling came in a challenge to the Department of Homeland Security brought by the University of California and others. In his 49-page ruling, Alsup said “plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the rescission was arbitrary and capricious” and must be set aside under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. The judge said a nationwide injunction was “appropriate” because “our country has a strong interest in the uniform application of immigration law and policy.”
The DACA program, which is based on the principle of prosecutorial discretion, was enacted in 2012 and has benefited some 800,000 individuals under 31 who arrived in the country before the age of 16, have lived in the US continuously since 2007, and are in school or have graduated. In total, up to 1.1 million so-called “dreamers” were eligible for the program, though not all who were eligible applied—potentially out of fear of “outing” themselves to the federal government as undocumented.
Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to drastically reduce legal and illegal immigration and to hasten the deportation of undocumented immigrants, ordered the DACA program canceled last September, giving Congress until March to find a legislative solution or the administration would begin phasing out its protections. Talks over a deal have stalled over disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over whether to pair it with funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the US-Mexico border. The Trump administration intends to fight Alsup’s injunction, but the court battle could drag on for years. The upshot, the Washington Post explains, is that DACA beneficiaries remain uncertain of their future status unless and until Congress acts.
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Late last week, Republicans in the US Senate and House of Representatives both passed versions of a comprehensive tax reform bill whose signature feature is a hefty cut in the corporate tax rate, from 35 to 20 percent. The bill, which received no Democratic votes in either house of Congress, now goes to conference, where lawmakers from both chambers will attempt to reconcile the two bills. Significant differences still exist between the two versions, however, and the Senate bill underwent a number of hasty revisions at the last minute before being passed in the middle of Friday night. It is therefore still uncertain whether Republican lawmakers will be able to agree on an identical bill that can pass both the Senate and the House.
Both versions of the bill have major implications for employers, beyond the tax breaks for businesses. Together, the bills touch on health insurance, retirement plans, and other employee benefits, but do so in different ways. SHRM’s Government Affairs team prepared a handy chart comparing the bills’ employer implications side-by-side, while Stephen Miller gives a comprehensive rundown of the differences:
Tuition Benefits: The House bill would eliminate the employer-provided education assistance deduction under Internal Revenue Code Section 127, which allows employers to provide up to $5,250 of tax-free tuition aid to an employee per year at the undergraduate, graduate or certificate level. The Senate version does not eliminate the education assistance deduction. …
Individual Health Coverage: The Senate’s bill would effectively repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) individual mandate, which requires most Americans to have health insurance, by reducing to zero the tax penalty for going without coverage. The House bill leaves the individual mandate in place.…
The Trump administration’s controversial travel ban, which indefinitely bars most travelers and immigrants from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States, can be implemented in its current form while pending legal challenges to it are resolved, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday. According to the Washington Post, “in an unsigned opinion Monday that did not disclose the court’s reasoning, the justices lifted the injunctions” against the ban put in place by two federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland:
The justices said they expected the federal judges reviewing challenges to the order — based on what challengers say are Trump’s animus toward Muslims and lack of authority under immigration laws — to handle the cases with “appropriate dispatch.”’ … The orders from the two district judges will be reviewed this week. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is set to consider the Hawaii case Wednesday, and the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond will consider the Maryland judge’s decision Friday.
Monday’s ruling does not mean the ban will survive its ongoing court battles, but it does suggest that if the federal judges do attempt to knock it down, the administration will petition the Supreme Court for a reversal of their rulings and may win that case.
Over 100 human resource leaders have expressed their support for undocumented workers and made a call to action in light of the Trump administration’s announcement that will phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants temporary work permits and protection from deportation to younger undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children. Recently, according to Erin Mulvaney at the National Law Journal, chief human resource officers from companies such as Target, HP, and 21st Century Fox signed and sent a letter to Congress late last month calling for a legislative solution to preserve DACA and expressing concern over the intensity of political rhetoric on immigration:
“We are concerned that the rhetoric around immigration issues often obscures the truth about how foreign-born workers of all skill levels benefit their companies, American workers, American communities, and the American economy,” according to the letter, organized by the HR Policy Association. “Further, while we believe the existing immigration laws need to be responsibly enforced, we are concerned that discouraging these workers’ participation in the U.S. workforce through stricter policies would reduce productivity, intensify the ongoing workforce crisis, and disadvantage American businesses and their U.S. employees operating in the global economy.”
Last month also saw the launch of the Coalition for the American Dream, a group of employers dedicated to lobbying for the rights of these workers, which includes major power players such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft. The coalition is also urging Congress to take action to protect the DACA program’s participants, often referred to as “Dreamers”:
The US Labor Department will appeal a ruling handed down by a federal judge in Texas earlier this year, striking down the controversial new overtime rule put in place by the previous administration, the Washington Examiner reports:
The department will ask that the district court’s August ruling by stayed while it establishes a new overtime rule. The Trump administration is still expected to significantly scale back the rule.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has repeatedly said that the Obama administration went too far when it expanded the rule, which extended overtime eligibility to an estimated 4 million more workers, but also that the rule itself was nevertheless in need of updating. He has suggested that a more moderate expansion would be appropriate.
A drawn-out court process could extend the duration of the uncertainty employers are currently facing as to the future of this regulation. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, appointed by President Donald Trump in March, has indeed been a critic of the Obama administration’s rule, which would have more than doubled the overtime salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476. Before the judgment handed down in August, the Trump Administration signaled that it planned to rewrite the rule and Acosta’s department began the process of doing so with a solicitation of public comments in July.
US President Donald Trump issued two executive orders on Thursday that stand to upend the individual and small group health insurance markets established by the Affordable Care Act. The first order directs the Labor Department to study ways to allow small businesses and possibly individuals to buy insurance collectively through nationwide association health plans (AHPs), while also looking to ease restrictions on the purchase of short-term insurance policies that don’t have to follow the ACA’s strict coverage requirements, and enable more organizations to give employers money to buy their own coverage through health reimbursement arrangements or HRAs. The second order immediately ends the cost-sharing reduction subsidies the federal government had been paying to insurance companies to induce them to offer affordable coverage to low-income Americans.
Neither of these changes has a direct impact on the way large and mid-sized enterprises provide insurance for their employees, but they could have repercussions for the overall health insurance market and create uncertainty about the future of the ACA. As Stephen Miller explains at SHRM, the first order won’t change anything for larger employers, but could expand health insurance options for smaller ones:
“For most large employers and their employees, the executive order will result in no change in health coverage,” agreed Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy at the National Business Group on Health, an association of large employers. As for smaller employers and some large employers, “the proposed changes may make it easier for employers to afford coverage and to help their employees pay for coverage if they buy it on their own.” …