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Some businesses are refusing to hire DACA recipients. They are fighting back.

Aug 6, 2018 / News Item / Vox — Alexia Fernandez Campbell

Daniel Marques would probably be working as a financial adviser for a big investment firm in New Jersey right now.

David Rodriguez might have landed an internship with Procter & Gamble in Miami.

Sandy Vasquez might be an engineering intern in Silicon Valley.

Ruben Juarez might have snagged a finance internship in Connecticut.

All four of them went to college and graduated with honors. And all four of them say they were denied jobs, even though they had valid work permits because they are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

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As the legal battle over DACA continues to wind its way through the courts, a related legal battle is on the rise. DACA immigrants are suing US employers for denying them jobs because they aren’t citizens. Despite presenting valid work permits from US Citizenship and Immigration Services, recruiters at several large corporations told them they only hire US citizens or immigrants with green cards. Some said they only hire employees whose work permits don’t expire (DACA must be renewed every two years).

DACA workers say these actions are a form of citizenship discrimination prohibited under the Civil Rights Act of 1866. At least four DACA workers who were denied jobs in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and California are suing the companies that turned them away using that argument.

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Federal courts say DACA workers are now a protected class

So far, DACA workers seem to have a good chance of winning. In April, a federal judge in Florida ruled that DACA recipients are a protected class, and allowed the lawsuit to proceed. A federal judge in New York came to the same conclusion in the first DACA lawsuit filed in 2014. That case was eventually settled.

The first DACA worker to file a discrimination lawsuit was a 25-year-old college graduate from Yonkers, New York. It was 2014, and Ruben Juarez had just graduated with an undergraduate degree in accounting. He recently had been accepted to Fordham University to pursue a master’s degree in global finance.

But a year earlier, Juarez was denied a paid internship at the largest life insurance firm in the United States because of his DACA status.

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Juarez argued that the hiring practices violated his equal rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1866. In his 2015 class-action complaint, his lawyers zeroed in on the equal rights clause, known as section 1981, which says “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts ... as is enjoyed by white citizens.”

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Northwestern Mutual appealed the denial, and the Second Circuit Court agreed to review the judge’s dismissal order. Eventually, the company settled with Juarez. As part of the August 2015 settlement, the company agreed to create a recruitment program for DACA workers and other immigrants with legal status. They also agreed to pay up to $7,500 to workers they turned away as part of the policy.

Fortune 100 companies are facing more DACA lawsuits

The Juarez case was a victory for DACA workers and has paved the way for others to fight efforts to shut them out of the job market. The Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) has filed four similar class-action lawsuits against Merrill Lynch (owned by Bank of America), Procter & Gamble, and Allied Wealth Partners. This month, the nonprofit legal group plans to file a lawsuit against a Silicon Valley cloud computing firm called VMware, which told a DACA recipient in January that the company only hires US citizens and immigrants with green cards.

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In April, DACA workers snagged another small victory. A federal judge in Miami denied Procter & Gamble’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by David Rodriguez, a 27-year-old graduate from Florida International University. That means the case has a decent chance to go to trial, or at the very least gives Rodriguez leverage in negotiating a settlement.

Rodriguez had submitted an application for a paid internship with the company after meeting with recruiters at a job fair on campus. When Rodriguez followed up about his application, the recruiter told him that he couldn’t work at the company because they only hire applicants who “are legally authorized to work with no restraints on the type, duration, or location of employment.”

Rodriguez filed a class-action lawsuit against the Procter & Gamble, arguing that the company was discriminating against him. Judge Kathleen Williams denied the company’s effort to dismiss the case, stating that Rodriguez had a plausible claim.

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