The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against rocket maker SpaceX last month for allegedly discriminating against hiring refugees and those granted asylum.
The lawsuit alleges that from at least September 2018 to May 2022, SpaceX routinely discouraged refugees from applying to the company and refused to hire or consider them as applicants because of their citizenship status. Doing so is in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, according to the department.
The Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), an office within the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, began an investigation in May 2020 into the company’s hiring practices.
The Justice Department is seeking backpay, a civil penalty and fair consideration for each applicant discriminated against. The federal agency also seeks to order SpaceX to stop its discriminatory hiring practices.
“Through this lawsuit we will hold SpaceX accountable for its illegal employment practices and seek relief that allows asylees and refugees to fairly compete for job opportunities and contribute their talents to SpaceX’s workforce,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
“SpaceX was told repeatedly that hiring anyone who was not a permanent resident of the United States would violate international arms trafficking law, which would be a criminal offense,” Musk wrote.
Out of more than 10,000 hires made between September 2018 and May 2022, the company hired only one applicant who identified as person granted asylum on their application. The hiring occurred four months after the department’s investigation, according to the complaint.
In its complaint, the department alleges that SpaceX officials wrongfully claimed it could not hire refugees or those granted asylum due to federal export control laws and regulations applicable to its work with defense-related goods, software, technology and technical data. However, the department stated that such regulations do not prohibit these individuals from being hired, as they are on “equal footing” with U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents under export control laws.
Musk has made other allegedly false statements about U.S. hiring regulations for SpaceX. At the 2017 International Astronautical Congress, Musk stated the company could not hire individuals without permanent resident status, commonly called a “green card.”
“[The federal government] make getting a job in the U.S. hard as it is, but if you're working on rocket technology, that's considered an advanced weapons technology,” Musk told the audience. “So even a normal work visa isn't sufficient unless you get special permission from the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State.”
The Department of Justice is encouraging any refugees or those granted asylum who have applied to positions at SpaceX and been rejected or were discouraged from applying because of their citizenship status to contact its Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section.
“Asylees and refugees have overcome many obstacles in their lives, and unlawful employment discrimination based on their citizenship status should not be one of them,” Clarke said.