Workplace Enforcement Workarounds

Stephen Lee, UC Irvine School of Law


The Obama administration has greatly expanded the use of local law enforcement actors to identify and remove “criminal aliens.” But this pursuit has come at the cost of undermining the Executive’s competing enforcement goal of punishing “exploitative employers.” Although the Obama administration has worked to deter exploitative employers from retaliating against immigrant workers, this essay argues that the Executive’s pursuit of “criminal aliens” is undermining its competing commitment to pursue “exploitative employers.” This generates two basic insights. First, transferring immigration enforcement authority to local law enforcement officers creates opportunities for employers to evade the “exploitative employer” label by recasting victimized immigrant workers as “criminal aliens.” Second, the devolution of such power to local police often invites worries about the ceding of federal power to subfederal entities. But as this essays show, programs like S-Comm have an aggrandizing effect in another respect: enlisting the help of local police allows ICE to expand its power at the expense of labor enforcement agencies.