Means to an End: An Assessment of the Status-blind Approach to Protecting Undocumented Worker Rights
No Access Until
This article applies the tenets of bureaucratic incorporation theory to an investigation of bureaucratic decision making in labor standards enforcement agencies (LSEAs), as they relate to undocumented workers. Drawing on 25 semistructured interviews with high-level officials in San Jose and Houston, I find that bureaucrats in both cities routinely evade the issue of immigration status during the claims-making process, and directly challenge employers’ attempts to use the undocumented status of their workers to deflect liability. Respondents offer three institutionalized narratives for this approach: (1) to deter employer demand for undocumented labor, (2) the conviction that the protection of undocumented workers is essential to the agency’s ability to regulate industry standards for all workers, and (3) to clearly demarcate the agency’s jurisdictional boundaries to preserve institutional autonomy and scarce resources. Within this context, enforcing the rights of undocumented workers becomes simply an institutional means to an end.