© 2023 Gold Futures Challenge. All Rights Reserved.
Sur Legal Collaborative
Sur Legal Collaborative
Sur Legal Collaborative
Sur Legal is meeting a critical unmet need in Georgia, a state with some of the worst employment laws, no worker centers, and no organizations educating and assisting immigrant workers in enforcing their labor rights, particularly in the occupational safety and health context. Since our founding, we have created infographics in Spanish and English that have been shared widely across social media and co-hosted Know Your Rights sessions with grassroots groups across Georgia. We have also assisted a group of poultry workers with filing an OSHA complaint in response to a deadly nitrogen leak that killed 6 workers, which led to OSHA issuing over $1 million in penalties against the companies found responsible. Sur now represents many of these workers on deferred action applications, a form of immigration relief that has only recently been made available to immigrant workers by DHS and DOL. Sur has demonstrated our ability to increase access to justice by putting legal tools in the hands of workers. Through collaboration with organizations across the Deep South, we have reached thousands of workers with the infographics and primers on a variety of labor law issues we created. We will continue to democratize legal knowledge by co-hosting bilingual training sessions with grassroots groups across the South. Shelly Anand, Sur’s fearless South Asian Executive Director, began her career as a Bilingual Staff Attorney with the Georgia Legal Services Program, representing immigrants in civil matters. She then served 6 years with the US Department of Labor litigating labor cases involving Asian immigrant workers. During that time, Shelly saw firsthand the government’s repeated failure to ensure language access and witnessed how workers were unwilling to come forward and testify against their abusive employers who were often influential members of the community. Shelly’s personal experience with these entrenched systems of inequality and intimidation within Asian communities informs how Sur strategizes to overcome such barriers and to build collective worker power across all communities. Because of our expertise, approach, and demonstrated ability to work collectively with workers, Sur is uniquely positioned to serve working class Asian American and immigrant communities in the South.
About the Organization:
$100,000 - $500,000
State and local governments throughout the South are both anti-immigrant and anti-worker. Regional and national employers have exploited institutionalized racism to foment divisions within the working-class pitting US citizen workers and unions against immigrant workers. Southern politicians have benefitted both politically and monetarily from ensuring that their states are perceived as hostile to organized labor and immigration all the while building their local economies off the exploitation immigrant communities, paying them low wages to work in hazardous industries such as construction, meat processing, farm work, as well as forced labor within private detention centers. These factors drive the labor abuse to deportation pipeline, a system that pulls immigrants to this country to take on dangerous work at low wages, then disposes of them, particularly if they complain about working conditions, through the detention and deportation machine. One in eight workers in Georgia are immigrants . Immigrant workers experience 300 more workplace fatalities and 61,000 more workplace injuries per year, 37% receive less than minimum wage and 76% experience wage theft . Immigrant laborers are disproportionately vulnerable to trafficking and workplace sexual assault. Yet, most immigrants remain silent about these abuses due to fear of retaliation from their employers , being blacklisted in the local community , or the risk of deportation . Although such retaliation by employers is unlawful it continues with near impunity . One study found that 43% of workers who complained about a labor violation to their employers faced retaliation . The rise of workplace raids by ICE and deportations of undocumented workers, often soon after workers assert their labor rights or after the initiation federal labor investigations, has had an especially chilling effect on the ability of undocumented workers to assert their rights . This chilling effect allows employers to continue abusing undocumented workers and leads to more dangerous and abusive working conditions for all workers. Safety, health, security, and freedom are basic human rights that are not a reality for many immigrant workers, particularly those who are undocumented. However, workers, regardless of their immigration status, do have power and can collectively build towards a reality where they are safe, healthy, secure, and free.
Sur intentionally focuses on democratizing legal knowledge to address a root cause problem: that lawyers often have an outsized role in access to social justice. Not everyone can afford an attorney and direct legal services non-profits are often at capacity. Sur seeks to resolve these structural issues by de-lawyering the work so that grassroots organizers, immigrants, and working-class communities can fight against abusive employers with robust labor complaints and simultaneous applications for immigration relief through deferred action, U and T visas. In doing so, Sur strives to transform the labor conditions for low-wage immigrant workers in the South. Sur will continue to represent immigrant workers on forms of immigration relief and to support the movement to end ICE prisons in Georgia. By obtaining work permits for immigrant workers, they are no longer restricted to working in the most hazardous industries that prey on and exploit their vulnerability. Immigration relief and work permits also provide protection from retaliation that is otherwise unavailable to undocumented workers . Sur will continue to advocate for OSHA to become a U and T visa certifying agency. U and T visas are a critical form of protection for undocumented workers who assist with investigations of labor abuse and provides more long-term protection and a path to permanent status, unlike deferred action which provides only temporary protection and no path to citizenship. Using social media platforms, as well as messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Sur will continue to disseminate legal information and continue to educate immigrant communities about their rights. Recognizing that Asian immigrant communities lack access to resources on labor rights they understand, Sur plans to expand our work serve these communities in part by translating the materials we have created in other languages, including Vietnamese, Korean, Mandarin, Hindu/Urdu, Bengali, Dari, and Pashto. Sur will use this grant to pay for a language line to conduct intake interviews in the service-seeker's native language; cover USCIS fees for immigrants to obtain work permits; provide training sessions, and deepen our partnerships with AAPI grassroots organizations across the Deep South.