Yesterday, the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Labor Department finally agreed to work together to make sure the government’s zeal to enforce immigration laws doesn’t hurt labor enforcement efforts.
Let me break down the power equation here. Like labor unions, some employers support comprehensive immigration reform because it’s the only way to a fair system where everyone has the same rights and responsibilities. But other employers—the notorious Agriprocessors comes to mind—profit from the status quo. They hire undocumented immigrants because they are easier to control. They use the broken immigration system to enhance their profit margin, undercut law-abiding competitors, undermine workers, and cheat American taxpayers. When workers start demanding their rights, these employers threaten them with deportation.
It would be smart to focus enforcement efforts on these abusive employers, to break the cycle of abuse and protect the rights of all workers. Unfortunately, Michael Chertoff’s Department of Homeland Security instead targeted immigrant workers with massive worksite raids, criminal prosecutions, and deportations. The Labor Department was largely unaware or uninvolved. Immigration and Customs Enforcement even used the Department of Labor to trap immigrants by impersonating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and arresting workers who showed up for safety training.