The Biden administration sued Elon Musk-owned rocket and satellite company SpaceX on Thursday for allegedly discriminating against asylum seekers and refugees in hiring.
“The lawsuit alleges that, from at least September 2018 to May 2022, SpaceX routinely discouraged asylees and refugees from applying and refused to hire or consider them, because of their citizenship status, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
“In job postings and public statements over several years, SpaceX wrongly claimed that under federal regulations known as ‘export control laws,’ SpaceX could hire only US citizens and lawful permanent residents, sometimes referred to as ‘green card holders,’” the DOJ added.
The laws bar foreign persons from being given access to export-controlled items without approval from the State Department or Department of Commerce, but permits US persons including citizens, residents, refugees and asylum seekers, according to the lawsuit.
Immigrants “had virtually no chance of being fairly considered or hired for a job at SpaceX,” the lawsuit states, saying the company’s “hiring practices were routine, widespread, and longstanding, and harmed asylees and refugees.”
The Justice Department also pointed to online posts from the company’s billionaire owner Musk as examples of “discriminatory public statements.”
The lawsuit cited a June 2020 post on X, formerly called Twitter, by CEO Musk to his then 36 million followers that said: “U.S. law requires at least a green card to be hired at SpaceX, as rockets are advanced weapons technology.”
At an international conference in September 2016, Musk also said SpaceX hires require “special permission from the Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State” to comply with International Traffic in Arms Regulations, the suit notes.
Several recruiters also cited the law to reject applicants. Between 2018 and 2022, SpaceX hired just one asylum seeker — four months after the Justice Department began investigating the company.
Federal agencies such as NASA have awarded the company billions of dollars in contracts for communications and satellite technologies.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Musk, a South African immigrant and naturalized US citizen himself, is in the middle of other legal battles with the federal government following his $44 billion buyout of Twitter last year.
A judge last week accused the Tesla and former Twitter CEO of trying to “cozy up” to former President Donald Trump by having lawyers for the social media company deny federal prosecutors access to his account.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who indicted Trump on four counts earlier this month for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, sought private messages, draft tweets and location info on the former president’s account.
DC US District Judge Beryl Howell held Musk’s attorneys in contempt of court and find the company $350,000 for ignoring a search warrant prosecutors obtained for the information — and for tipping off the former president about the records request.
She also implied that Twitter’s delay in responding to the request was an effort to curry favor with Trump after having booted him from the social media platform following the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
US Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who heads the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights, brought the SpaceX suit following an investigation by the division’s Immigration and Employee Rights Section.
She has disparaged Musk for his immense wealth and as president of a civil rights legal group in 2020 called on former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to kick Trump off Twitter for his “stolen” election claims, according to a review of her social media posts.
“Our investigation found that SpaceX failed to fairly consider or hire asylees and refugees because of their citizenship status and imposed what amounted to a ban on their hire regardless of their qualification, in violation of federal law,” Clarke said.
Clarke also said SpaceX recruiters and high-level officials “actively discouraged” asylum seekers and refugees from seeking work opportunities at the company.
The United States seeks fair consideration and back pay for asylum seekers and refugees who were deterred or denied employment at SpaceX due to the alleged discrimination, the Justice Department said.
The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties in an amount to be determined by court and policy changes to ensure SpaceX complies with the federal non-discrimination mandate going forward.
With Post wires
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