An Interview with Immigration Attorney Carmen Arce
As the world hears about sexual harassment in Hollywood, the voices of immigrant women and their experiences have not been at the forefront of the discussion. Immigrant women who have come forward have done so at great personal risk, but their experiences may be more common than those of Hollywood actresses. I decided to look into this and sat down with Carmen Arce, the founder of Arce Immigration Law, P.A. in Miami, Florida. Ms. Arce is certified as an immigration expert by The Florida Bar and represents individuals, families, employers, and employees throughout the U.S. and abroad in all their immigration matters.
Immigrant Women are Especially Vulnerable to Sexual Harassment
Ms. Arce believes immigrant women are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment regardless of whether they have an employer sponsored visa, a pending application through a spouse, or they work as a domestic employee. Ms. Arce has noticed in Miami at least, that many
Latin American immigrants almost take it for granted that they are going to have to deal with sexual harassment.”
Even though immigrant women should not have to expect it, “they are used to it in their home countries so they don’t even bat an eye about it when it happens in the U.S.”
To make matters worse, many immigrant women don’t know about laws in the U.S. that can protect them from sexual harassment and abuse, even when the abuser or victim is not a U.S. citizen. “I don’t think that they’re aware of the laws and I don’t think many immigrant women even think the harassment is inappropriate. They may not be comfortable with it, but they are used to it unfortunately.” Ms. Arce believes immigrant women are not just subject to harassment by their employers, but by customers as well, “I’ve seen it in the workplace – I’ve seen it in smaller coffee shops, restaurants, with their bosses and patrons calling them in a derogatory way, but they don’t take any offense to it saying things like ‘wow you’re looking good mami.’ I don’t want to be called mami and I don’t think it’s very appropriate.”
Cultural Changes Are Needed in the Workplace
Ms. Arce thinks the cultural and social pressures that make some of what appears to be cultural acceptance of harassment changes with “it being in the news that it’s not ok, more women standing up for themselves, more men standing up for women in the workplace and saying ‘hey, that’s not correct – we’re not going to sexualize our employees.’” As an employer herself, Ms. Arce sets the tone in her firm and says in a small firm, “you set the rules by your example.” Ms. Arce also “wouldn’t hesitate to talk to an employee” if she ever saw or heard something inappropriate. Ms. Arce is right – the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that the “cornerstone of a successful harassment prevention strategy is the consistent and demonstrated commitment of senior leaders to create and maintain a culture in which harassment is not tolerated.” Since many employers aren’t going to run their businesses like Ms. Arce, immigrant workers can get help from the EEOC. In one case, the EEOC secured a $582,000 settlement involving eight recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America who were physically and verbally sexually harassed by a Suffolk Laundry manager.
What Can Immigrant Women Do If They Experience Sexual Harassment at Work?
Immigrants are protected from sexual harassment and employment discrimination by federal and state civil rights laws and can file charges for sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and national origin discrimination. In a recent case, the EEOC successfully obtained the authority to subpoena an employer in a discrimination case filed by an undocumented worker. Immigrant women may want to speak with their immigration attorney as well regarding the U Visa, a visa for victims of certain crimes who cooperate with law enforcement authorities. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to consult with an attorney about your legal rights.