Shannon Gleeson

Publication Date



[Excerpt] This book examines how immigrant workers' rights are enforced in practice, how claims are channeled, and why and how advocates take on particular battles. In the chapters that follow, I draw on an in-depth comparative case study of two immigrant-receiving destinations—San Jose, California, and Houston, Texas—to examine the dynamics of enforcing immigrant worker rights. I consider how certain solutions become commonly understood as appropriate responses to a given issue that affects immigrant laborers, and which actors take on responsibility for the advancement of particular worker problems. For example, why does a construction worker who has been cheated of a week's pay in San Jose get funneled to a local legal aid clinic and eventually a state agency to file a formal claim, while his counterpart working in one of Houston's sprawling track developments will struggle to find any lawyer willing to serve him and will perhaps never set foot in a government office to file a claim? Why do the San Jose police have little to offer this worker, while in Houston any police officer is required to make a theft-of-service report when asked? How is it that if this nonunionized worker were to call the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council in San Jose, he would be advised to call the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement or seek out a local legal aid clinic, while in Houston the Harris County AFL-CIO Council would be more likely to encourage him to pay a visit to city hall, the federal building, or perhaps even a worker center to help organize a direct action, depending on his situation? And how do we understand the vastly different support immigrant workers will find from their consulates in these two cities?

The goal of this book is to help answer these questions and expand our understanding of how immigrant worker rights are enforced and advanced. I situate the rights of immigrant workers in the space between both labor standards enforcement and immigration control, two conflicting jurisdictions whose implementation can vary widely, depending on their local political context. I then look beyond government bureaucrats to understand how enforcement strategies are influenced by local intermediaries who may have diverse interests in the advancement of immigrant worker rights. These include local elected officials, who can either intensify or mitigate the surveillance of undocumented immigrants and promote or stymie the interests of workers; civil society actors, who have direct knowledge of and access to immigrant workers, and who work in diverse ways to advance their rights; and consular institutions, whose unique combination of political legitimacy, institutionalized resources, and unfettered support for their emigrant population creates a unique pathway for rights enforcement.


The abstract, table of contents, and first twenty-five pages are published with permission from the Cornell University Press. For ordering information, please visit the Cornell University Press.