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Latina Cubicle Confidential™ Are You Going to Declare Your Immigration Status At Work?

By Dr. Maria G. Hernandez
Latina Cubicle Confidential™

The executive order announced by President Barrack Obama on June 15th declaring that those who came to the US before age 16 are now eligible for temporary work visas may encourage you to share your new immigration status at work. If you are ready to discuss this with your employer, take a minute to research a few things so that you are fully prepared. You may also need to think about how to share your status change with your immediate supervisor and co-workers.

For example, if you used a false ID to secure your current job, keep in mind that this is considered a misdemeanor in most states. It will likely count as one of the misdemeanors permitted when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reviews your eligibility to stay and receive a temporary work visa.

A detailed list of the considerations is available at the National Immigration Law Center or the ICE website. At the time you inform your employer of your new status, you may learn that the company policy is not as forgiving on misdemeanors.

Look at your employer’s statement on background checks and be sure that you understand their policy on items that might appear in a background check. You may need to ask an attorney for guidance given that this is an unprecedented mandate. Even your company’s Human Resource staff may not be fully prepared with how to accommodate your change in status.

Another challenge for you is what to say to your co-workers.

Some of your colleagues’ opinions about immigration may be unknown to you and most may not care. There is always the possibility of a surprise or two, however. For some the idea that you’ve been in the country without proper documentation will change the way they see you and you may need to rebuild that relationship. For many it will be the first time they can associate a real person with the status of undocumented worker — you.

It may be helpful to speak about the reality that brought you to the US: a parent who came looking for opportunity when you were just a child; a family that sent you to live here because you needed special care; a crisis that forced your family to flee your homeland without refugee status. The story of your life is an opportunity to educate those who would rather think of immigration as just a focus on someone breaking the law.

Immigration is not a simple matter of right and wrong.

You may also need to be prepared to discuss a wide range of issues surrounding the politics of immigration but try not to become the spokesperson on it, either. No matter how compelling your story may be, there is no assurance that all your co-workers or even your boss can accept your status and this is something that may affect your professional relationships at work.

As much as you may want their support, they have the option to disagree or disapprove. The workplace needs to be about getting work done and someone’s political ideology is completely personal. Plan ahead and have a strategy in place to create alternative support for yourself. If it looks like there is no middle ground, focus on the job you must do to demonstrate your professional skills.

It may be hard for others to appreciate that the President’s executive order allows you to be fully American and to claim your sense of authenticity in a way that has been painfully elusive. It is equally hard to explain the patriotism that ironically only immigrants can demonstrate.

That pride you feel in claiming the US as your homeland will be reflected in everything you do and that alone may help your co-workers to see you ever more clearly for all your contributions at work and beyond.

Tell me about how your co-workers respond to your new status at Latina Cubicle Confidential™ or join me live at the next LatinaVIDA™.

Dr. Maria G. Hernandez has 20 years experience consulting in both the United States and Mexico to senior executives in Fortune 50 companies and facilitated change initiatives for elected officials and their staff. She has worked in academia, business, nonprofits, technology startups, and public agencies. For more information, visit Latina Cubicle Confidential™.

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