Review of Conflicting Commitments: The Politics of Enforcing Immigration Worker Rights in San Jose and Houston

By Osei-Bonsu, Alexander | Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Review of Conflicting Commitments: The Politics of Enforcing Immigration Worker Rights in San Jose and Houston


Osei-Bonsu, Alexander, Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal


Review of Conflicting Commitments: The Politics of Enforcing Immigration Worker Rights in San Jose and Houston, by Shannon Gleeson

Publisher: ILR Press

Price: $69.95

Reviewed by: Alexander Osei-Bonsu

One way to understand a social phenomenon is to interrogate the forces that come to bear on that phenomenon. Couched against the exigencies of immigration policy, Shannon Gleeson's book Conflicting Commitments: The Politics of Enforcing Immigration Worker Rights in San Jose and Houston (1) attempts to call out the forces that bear on geographic disparities in access to legal recourse for the undocumented immigrant worker. To this end, Gleeson, through case study, examines the localized implementation of immigrant rights enforcement between two cities with notable undocumented immigrant populations: San Jose, California, and Houston, Texas.

Gleeson's overarching account of the recourse disparities between the two cities may be understood in terms of the varying degrees to which cultural and institutional entities assimilate under localized conditions. She charts these assimilationist dynamics mainly by examining the mandates of federal enforcement agencies, industrial relations entities, civil society advocacy groups, and national consulates.

Conflicting Commitments opens by anchoring the reader in a muted structural-change narrative (2) of America's post-industrial labor market. Towards the end of the twentieth century, industrial relations systems--particularly labor unions-faced immense pressure as trends towards globalization and market liberalization increased. "These structural trends together with the prevailing neo-liberal market discourse ... present[ed] enormous problems for the trade unions." (3) The effect of this paradigm shift was a "bifurcated" labor market, with highly specialized, highly paid professional labor on one end, a rapidly-disappearing domestic-skilled manufacturing industry in the middle, and an ever increasing army of low-skilled, low-wage labor on the lower end. (4) This combination of a segmented labor market and diminishing middle-income industries further destabilized the influence of labor unions, which faced an attenuation both in their middle class membership and its commensurate force of sanction. (5)

Gleeson, within this milieu of increasingly polarized wealth disparities and decline in free-market enforcement mechanisms, focuses her first chapter on the disjointed bureaucratic efforts of labor standard enforcement agencies (LSEAs) (6) in protecting the employment rights of low-wage workers, who are often low-skilled, usually non-unionized, (7) and disproportionately undocumented. (8)

Gleeson, early on, is compelled to understand the employment predicaments of undocumented immigrants as an extension of structural and material forces that, at the expense of the undocumented worker, ultimately benefit segments of the domestic economy. (9) Further, that "the structural location of undocumented workers perfectly serves and reproduces the dominant economic systems," (10) Gleeson finds, causes the undocumented immigrant worker to be "structurally embedded" in the low-wage labor market." (11) Gleeson, however, does not absolve bureaucratic actors in examining the litany of structural and material impediments to implementing the presumptive legal rights of undocumented worker. (12) In fact, Gleeson, pays considerable attention to these particular concerns from the outset, setting the tone for the book.

In the second chapter of Conflicting Commitments, Gleeson looks at several legal cases in order to parse the structural dichotomy that polarizes the various bureaucratic mandates on undocumented immigrant worker rights. (13) On one side of the divide sits anti-immigration law, with its "increasingly robust immigration enforcement apparatus," (14) and on the other sits domestic human rights law, with its "sustained rights for undocumented immigrant workers. …

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