Segmentation and the Role of Labor Standards Enforcement in Immigration Reform

Janice Fine & Gregory Lyon
Date of Publication: 
January, 2017
Source Organization: 

This article questions the inevitability of a low-wage, labor market where violations of labor laws are widespread and where immigrants are disproportionally victimized.  Some economists have posited that there are structural reasons why modern economies bifurcate into a primary labor market, where jobs are stable and family sustaining, and a secondary market where jobs are unstable, low paying, and often exploitive. The authors review and attempt to rebut the theories supporting this proposition. They cite examples from other advanced economies (France and Denmark, in particular) that seem to disprove this thesis. The key to preventing these abuses, they argue, is to combine “vertical” enforcement efforts by governments at all levels with “lateral” participation by civic sector organization that have links to, and enjoy the trust of, the communities most affected by labor rights violations. The paper cites two recent examples of such multi-faceted, “co-enforcement” programs:  the work of the Office of Labor Standards of the City of Seattle which enforces six municipal ordinances covering various labor standards, and the innovative work of Julie Su, the Labor Commissioner of the State of California, whose department has worked in close collaboration with community-based organizations. Finally, the authors argue that labor standard enforcement should be an integral part of immigration reform in order to eliminate downward pressure on wages and safeguard the rights of all working Americans, whether immigrant or not. They reference two pieces of stand-alone legislation already introduced in Congress that could be incorporated into a larger immigration reform proposal. (American Immigration Policy Portal)

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Fine, J. & Lyon, G. (2017). Segmentation and the Role of Labor Standards Enforcement in Immigration Reform. Journal of Migration and Human Security, 5(2), 431-451. Retrieved from