Last week, the Department of Labor (DOL) released an advertisement featuring DOL Secretary Hilda Solis informing viewers that “every worker in America has a right to be paid fully whether documented or not.” The video is meant to promote a government hotline which any worker can call to report wage theft. However, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) believes the ad is an “explicit invitation for illegal immigrants to bring the resources and power of the Department of Labor to bear against American employers.” In a damning press release, King accuses the DOL of engaging in a campaign to protect “illegal aliens” via its anti-wage theft campaign:
“Whether they are using the Department of Labor to support illegal immigrants’ allegations against America’s employers, or the Department of Justice to invalidate Arizona’s illegal immigration enforcement law, this Administration continues to use the limited resources of the American taxpayer on behalf of illegal aliens,” said King. “It is shameful that Secretary Solis has to be reminded that her primary duty is owed to the American people, and not to those who have illegally entered our country. The Obama Administration needs to realize that the American people have a right to have their immigration laws enforced.”
King fails to note that, technically, the DOL is simply following the laws on the book. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) points out that, “[f]ederal courts and state and federal agencies have consistently held that core labor standards, including the right to organize, to a minimum wage, and to protection from discrimination, cover all workers, regardless of immigration status.” In other words, it’s not the DOL’s job to enforce the nation’s immigration laws — that’s under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security.
The reasoning behind the separation of responsibilities isn’t just a bureaucratic division of power, it actually protects American workers. Shortchanging unauthorized workers hurts everyone who is employed in the given industry where the exploitation is taking place. Unscrupulous employers who hire and abuse undocumented labor drive down wages and working conditions for all the Americans who work alongside them. They also put honest businesses who want to abide by immigration and labor laws in a position in which they are forced to compete on an uneven playing field. And if DOL were required to enforce immigration laws, many — if not most — of those abuses would go unreported.
If anything, by defending abusive employers, King is encouraging more illegal immigration. Mark Krikorian, who is no fan of legal or illegal immigration, has rightly pointed out in the past that “[t]he more it costs to hire illegal aliens, the more employers might turn to legal workers.” Conversely, when businesses think they can get away with saving a buck by shortchanging undocumented workers, they’re more likely to do so. Jennifer Gordon of Fordham Law School has asserted that “millions of undocumented immigrants accept whatever wage is offered. They don’t protest out of fear of being fired or deported.” By letting immigrants know that they won’t be deported simply for reporting abuse, the DOL is going a lot further in combating illegal immigration than it would by simply turning a blind eye to labor violations. Which begs the question of whether King is more interested in defending American employers than in protecting American workers.
Watch the DOL ad: