Segmentation and the Role of Labor Standards Enforcement in Immigration Reform

by Janice Fine and Gregory Lyon


Despite the fact that many low-wage, violation-ridden industries are disproportionately occupied by immigrants, labor standards and immigration reform have largely been treated as separate pieces of an otherwise interrelated puzzle. Not only is this view misguided, but this paper argues that strengthening labor standards enforcement would ensure that standards are upheld for all workers, immigrant and others. In addition, labor standards enforcement is instrumental to the erosion of sub-standard conditions in certain sectors, often referred to as the “secondary” labor market, that are associated with advanced market economies. Ensuring labor standards are upheld diminishes the incentive for employers to undercut wages by exploiting vulnerable workers, many of whom are immigrants. As this paper argues, strengthening enforcement must include not only “vertical” mechanisms, including strategic enforcement and penalizing and criminalizing egregious and repeated labor violators, but also “lateral” mechanisms, such as co-enforcement by workers and through worker and community organizations. The article illustrates the role of co-enforcement in labor standards through two case studies.


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14240/jmhs.v5i2.92