The U.S. Justice Department is suing Elon Musk’s SpaceX for refusing to hire refugees and asylum-seekers at the rocket company.

In a lawsuit filed on Thursday, the Justice Department said SpaceX routinely discriminated against these job applicants between 2018 and 2022, in violation of U.S. immigration laws.

The lawsuit says that Musk and other SpaceX officials falsely claimed the company was allowed to hire only U.S. citizens and permanent residents due to export control laws that regulate the transfer of sensitive technology.

“U.S. law requires at least a green card to be hired at SpaceX, as rockets are advanced weapons technology,” Musk wrote in a June 16, 2020, tweet cited in the lawsuit.

In fact, U.S. export control laws impose no such restrictions, according to the Justice Department.

Those laws limit the transfer of sensitive technology to foreign entities, but they do not prevent high-tech companies such as SpaceX from hiring job applicants who have been granted refugee or asylum status in the U.S. (Foreign nationals, however, need a special permit.)

“Under these laws, companies like SpaceX can hire asylees and refugees for the same positions they would hire U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents,” the Department said in a statement. “And once hired, asylees and refugees can access export-controlled information and materials without additional government approval, just like U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.”

The company did not respond to a VOA request for comment on the lawsuit and whether it had changed its hiring policy.

Recruiters discouraged refugees, say investigators

The Justice Department’s civil rights division launched an investigation into SpaceX in 2020 after learning about the company’s alleged discriminatory hiring practices.

The inquiry discovered 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,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement.

“Our investigation also found that SpaceX recruiters and high-level officials took actions that actively discouraged asylees and refugees from seeking work opportunities at the company,” Clarke said.

According to data SpaceX provided to the Justice Department, out of more than 10,000 hires between September 2018 and May 2022, SpaceX hired only one person described as an asylee on his application.

The company hired the applicant about four months after the Justice Department notified it about its investigation, according to the lawsuit.

No refugees were hired during this period.

“Put differently, SpaceX’s own hiring records show that SpaceX repeatedly rejected applicants who identified as asylees or refugees because it believed that they were ineligible to be hired due to” export regulations, the lawsuit says.

On one occasion, a recruiter turned down an asylee “who had more than nine years of relevant engineering experience and had graduated from Georgia Tech University,” the lawsuit says.

Suit seeks penalties, change

SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit asks an administrative judge to order SpaceX to “cease and desist” its alleged hiring practices and seeks civil penalties and policy changes.