Protecting Immigrant Workers Through Interagency Cooperation

Stephen Lee’s Monitoring Immigration Enforcement offers a promising prescription for resolving the long-standing tension between the workplace enforcement priorities of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the efforts by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) to protect the rights of immigrant workers. Lee convincingly describes—often with the aid of rich historical examples—the origins of the chronic imbalance of power between DHS and the DOL, and the limitations of past efforts to synchronize the work of the respective agencies. Lee’s proposal for interagency coordination, in the form of ex ante monitoring by the DOL of worksite enforcement decisions, is a novel contribution to existing writings on immigrants and workplace regulation. Indeed, in the current political and historic moment, when immigration enforcement is often equated with the preservation of national security, any proposal to constrain the authority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) is bound to generate debate.

In this Response Essay, my objective is not to critique the core proposal that Lee advances, as I agree in principle with the concept of ex ante agency monitoring and believe that the DOL and DHS are well positioned to adopt such a framework. Rather, I seek to build on Lee’s article with reflections on the following four themes: (1) the complexity of the regulatory environment in which any interagency monitoring would take place, and the inevitable politicization of regulatory bodies; (2) the broader social and political context of immigration and labor regulation, and how that might shape collaborations between the DOL and DHS; (3) the precise circumstances under which the DOL might exercise its authority to constrain worksite enforcement actions; and (4) the significance of policy initiatives—relating to the intersection of workers’ rights and immigration enforcement—that have emerged during the administration of President Barack Obama.