Given the justifiable concern by voters surrounding illegal sweatshops, a number of state leaders are looking beyond punishing immigrant workers, to concentrating on raising wages for all workers, and increasing penalties for wage law violators across the board.

While many advocates of "fighting illegal immigration" claim to be doing so in the name of helping low-income workers, it is remarkable that almost none of them are addressing the pervasive theft of low-income worker wages by employers violating wage laws.  Instead of promoting a narrow tactic like sanctions against employers of undocumented workers, which only drives the problem of low-wage employment underground, cracking down on sweatshops and wage violators would be one of the most effective deterrents to employers recruiting undocumented immigrants.  If all employers have to pay a decent wage, the attraction of hiring undocumented immigrants would diminish tremendously. Since going after employers who violate wage laws will politically unite all workers, immigrant and native alike, cracking down on those abusive employers will actually strengthen the progressive political base.

Where anti-immigrant politicians proposed workplace sanctions against immigrants in 2008, a number of progressive leaders in states  proposed bills or amendments that highlighted the broader illegality of broken wage and safety laws that undermine workplace standards for all Americans.  

Anti-Immigrant Bills Stall where Wage Enforcement Seen as Better Solution:  A number of states that initially debated purely anti-immigrant measures recognized that failure to enforce state wage laws is the crux of the economic problem outraging state voters: 

  • In Connecticut in 2007, a bill was introduced that would have made it a criminal offense to hire undocumented workers, but instead it was modified into a state law to go after all employers who commit workers' compensation premium fraud to cheat workers out of benefits.
  • When the Iowa Senate approved SF 2416, a bill to toughen enforcement against employers violating Iowa state wage laws, it stalled movement in that chamber of an anti-immigrant bill approved in that state's House-and killed anti-immigrant legislation for 2008.  
  • When the Kansas House in 2008 voted to gut an anti-immigrant bill and added provisions to severely punish employers violating wages laws and exploiting undocumented immigrants, it led to deadlock with a purely anti-immigrant bill in the state Senate that lacked those wage enforcement provisions.

When anti-immigrant politicians resist such proposals, it just emphasizes that their concern for wage losses by low-income workers is empty and is just a smokescreen for hatred and nativism.

Core wage enforcement legislation should include:

General Resources:


Research Studies on Enforcing Wage Laws