Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Friday in Fresno that employers must protect confidential information about employees when federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents ask questions.
The advice from the state’s top law enforcement officer comes only days after at least 40 workers at Bee Sweet Citrus in Fowler lost their jobs after federal immigration agents began checking employee records, searching for people who are not legally allowed to work in the United States.
Elected officials from around the county got a chance to share their concerns with Becerra about a wide range of issues at a roundtable in Fresno arranged by Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno.
Fresno Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria said ICE checks could hurt the local economy if immigrants fear going to work.
“There’s been a lot of fear tactics,” she said.
Becerra said a new state law governs what employers can do when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents contact them. “There’s a state law that prescribes what information about your employees you can give out – private information,” he said. “I want to make sure employers understand what their rights are but also what their responsibilities are toward their employees.”
He said he will be in Fresno on Saturday and will be meeting with employers about the law. He also said officials who want a presentation about the law should call his office.
The Immigrant Workers Proctection Act went into effect Jan. 1. Last month, Becerra said he would prosecute employers who violate the new law. It requires employers to ask immigration agents for a warrant before granting access to a worksite, and prevents employers from voluntarily sharing confidential employee information without a subpoena.
It also requires employers to notify their workers 72 hours before a scheduled federal audit of employee records. “There’s no conflict between state and federal law,” Becerra said.
Employers must protect private information of employees, and ICE has the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, he said. The purpose of the state law is to protect the state’s economy, he said.
“I think California has made a decision,” he said. “We’re going to do what we need to do to grow our economy, to create good jobs, to give every family a chance…we’re still the number one driver of economic activity in the United States of America.”
Becerra is running for election in the June primary. Formerly a congressman from Los Angeles, he was appointed Attorney General in late 2016 by Gov. Jerry Brown after Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate.