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The Justice Department is suing SpaceX for allegedly not hiring refugees and asylees

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft sits on Launch Complex 39A after its launch was scrubbed at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Eva Marie Uzcategui
/
Getty Images
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft sits on Launch Complex 39A after its launch was scrubbed at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The Justice Department is suing Space X, accusing the Elon Musk-founded company of discriminating against refugees and asylum seekers in the hiring process.

The department alleges in the lawsuit filed Thursday that between September 2018 and May 2022, SpaceX violated the Immigration and Nationality Act by discouraging refugees and asylum recipients to apply for available positions in their marketing materials, rejecting or refusing to hire them and hiring only U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

SpaceX also falsely claimed it could not hire non-U.S. citizens because of export control laws, the Justice Department said.

In a reply posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, Musk called the lawsuit "yet another case of weaponization of the DOJ for political purposes."

"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 said in the post.

SpaceX builds and launches rockets, which limits its capacity to export certain technologies and software under export control laws such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

However, "asylees' and refugees' permission to live and work in the United States does not expire, and they stand on equal footing with U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents under export control laws," the department said in a statement.

The DOJ says Musk posted on X — which he now owns — that "US law requires at least a green card to be hired at SpaceX, as rockets are considered advanced weapons technology."

It also alleges that in postings SpaceX put on job hunting sites and online forums, SpaceX employees specified available positions were only open to U.S. citizens. On applications, potential employees had to check a box indicating their citizenship status, which was then input into a database that managers and recruiters marked with rejection codes, such as "not authorized to work/ITAR ineligible," "does not meet basic qualifications" and "not U.S. citizen/green card."

Rejected applicants with asylum or refugee status had apt experience for the roles, including one person who graduated from Georgia Tech and had nine years of engineering experience and another who the hiring manager said had "some impressive experience listed," the Justice Department said in its lawsuit.

Out of about 10,000 hires between 2018 and 2022, only one person was an asylee and none were refugees, the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department is seeking to have SpaceX pay civil penalties determined by a judge, hire the applicants who were qualified but rejected because of their citizenship status and give back pay to those who were discriminated against.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Ayana Archie