In 2017, then-California Labor Commissioner Julie Su issued an order barring agents of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from entering Commission offices.
Late last month, Su – President Biden’s nominee to be the next Secretary of Labor – testified in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee that not only didn’t she have a copy of the memo containing the order she could not “recall its precise contents.”
Today, committee members Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) demanded the current California Labor chief Stewart Knox hand over a copy of the memo.
“As part of the Committee’s vetting process for presidentially-appointed nominees, it has come to our attention that, in July 2017, as California State Labor Commissioner, Julie Su issued a memorandum to her staff which allegedly instructed them to refuse entry to U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents who visited state labor offices,” the senators write. “Therefore, pursuant to our constitutional responsibilities, we request that your office produce a copy of the 2017 memorandum issued by Julie Su to the Committee by May 8, 2023.”
Su has not directly denied ordering the ban.
“There is no doubt that allowing ICE to freely enter our office would have a substantial chilling effect on the willingness of workers to report violations and participate in our fight against wage theft,” Su said in a 2017 interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Su issued the directive in response to reports that ICE agents had shown up at state offices looking for specific people believed to be in the country illegally who had filed wage-related complaints against their employers.
Su told the Times that she suspected the employers being accused of underpaying employees had tipped off federal immigration agents about the status of the workers. “We should not enable unscrupulous employers who use immigration status as a vulnerability to retaliate unlawfully against a worker who is seeking our protection,” Su said in 2017.
ICE vehemently denied the accusation, but that did not stop Su from ordering agents be barred from the state offices – even including the waiting room – unless they have a warrant signed by a judge.
Su has a long history of immigration issue involvement. Her first big case as a young lawyer involved getting millions of dollars for Thai women who worked in brutal southern California sweat shops.
Upon her nomination, Su was lauded by numerous labor and immigrant advocacy groups, including the National Immigration Law Center, which said “Julie Su has long been a champion and ally for the rights of all workers, regardless of immigration status. Her track record of advancing the rights of low-wage workers and enforcing labor laws makes workplaces safer and better for everyone.”
Su’s history of advocating at the meeting point of immigration and labor is long and, if confirmed by the Senate, she is expected to continue to advocate for those same groups.
After her stint as state labor commissioner, Su was tapped by Gov. Gavin Newsom to oversee the state’s Labor and Workforce Development department, giving her oversight of the notorious Employment Development Department. During the pandemic, the EDD shoveled out up to $40 billion to fraudsters while leaving millions of Californians with legitimate unemployment benefits claims out in the cold (sometime literally) for weeks and months on end.
Su passed out of the senate committee on a strict party-line vote and is far from a sure thing when the final full senate vote is taken. If she loses just two Democrat votes – and at least four have yet to publicly support her – she will not be confirmed. That vote has yet to be scheduled.
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