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Report Says Immigration Enforcement Creates ‘Perverse Economic Incentive’ To Hire Undocumented Immigrants

Ten years later, ICE’s preoccupation with immigration enforcement was blatantly undermining the work of those trying to enforce labor laws.

The AFL-CIO, American Rights at Work and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) released a joint paper yesterday which shows that Bush-era immigration enforcement tactics created a “perverse economic incentive for employers to employ undocumented workers.” In other words, employers systematically deny undocumented workers “the most basic workplace protections” and escape responsibility “by simply calling for an immigration inspection.”


While clueless anti-immigrant groups like the Center for Immigration Studies ignorantly claim that disruptive immigration raids actually help native-born workers, the report, “Iced Out: How Immigration Enforcement Has Interfered with Workers’ Rights,” affirms that “threats to call immigration authorities deprive workers in nearly every industry of their right to a voice at work.”

In 1998, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) forged between the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now ICE) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) sought to create a balance between immigration and labor law enforcement. The MOU established that the two agencies would work together to increase employers’ compliance with minimum labor standards and clearly stated that immigration enforcement would not trump labor law enforcement.

Ten years later, ICE’s preoccupation with immigration enforcement was blatantly undermining the work of those trying to enforce labor laws. The report lists several examples of disruptive ICE actions, including massive immigration raids conducted in the middle of major labor disputes and organizing campaigns, stating:

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ICE actions have created incentives for shady employers to continue hiring and abusing undocumented workers, since the deportation of their employees may excuse those employers from complying with labor laws…ICE has been too quick to embrace workplace enforcement actions at the behest of employers and other individuals, including law enforcement, acting directly and transparently on behalf of employers, where a labor dispute was in progress or where some level of due diligence would have uncovered the pending dispute. When enforcement is focused on immigration status without regard to the implications for upholding workplace standards, our country’s workers — immigrant and non-immigrant alike — are trapped in abusive jobs at the mercy of abusive employers.

Two GAO reports released over the past couple years found that the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division hasn’t been doing its job either. The most recent, released this past March, showed that five of ten labor complaints reported by undercover agents were neither recorded in its database or investigated. Meanwhile, immigration prosecutions have risen 110% since 2004.

andrea nill

Andrea Christina Nill

Ana Avendaño, assistant to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and a report co-author, points out that ���the ultimate solution” is immigration reform which creates a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants and strips employers of their power to exploit and threaten workers who stand up for their rights. Earlier this year, the AFL-CIO, along with Change to Win, “agreed for the first time to join forces” and support comprehensive immigration reform based on a “joint framework.”

Andrea Christina Nill

Republished with permission from the Wonk Room/Think Progress