Immigration Policy and Labor Control

November 2, 2004 - 5:00 pm

The Case of Mexican Immigrants in the Tortilla Industry

Carolina Bank Muñoz, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Since its birth the U.S. has fluctuated repeatedly between opening and closing its borders according to different political, economic and social climates. The contemporary period is no exception. In the last twenty years we have witnessed some of the most austere immigration policy in the nation’s history. This includes, IRCA 1986 (Immigration Reform and Control Act), IIRIRA 1996 (Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act) , Social Security No Match Letters, and Operation Gatekeeper, Hoffman vs. NLRB, and an extension of powers to border patrol agents under Homeland Security. While the stated intent of these policies is to deter immigration and deter employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, in many cases the reverse has occurred. Using the case of the tortilla industry this presentation will trace how employers have used immigration policy to enforce shop floor labor control. In the tortilla industry, policies such as those mentioned above have created an incentive for employers to hire greater numbers of undocumented immigrants under inferior working conditions. This suggests a need for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, as well as greater social and political rights.

Carolina Bank Muñoz is an Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College. She obtained her Ph.D at the University of California, Riverside in 2004. Prior to arriving at Brooklyn College she worked as a project director at the University of California Institute for Labor and Employment (ILE). At the ILE she conducted immigration policy research, coordinated educational programs on the Immigrant Workers’ Freedom Ride, and developed leadership schools for immigrant workers in Los Angeles. Her dissertation compares the labor regimes of two tortilla factories owned by the same Mexican Transnational Corporation on both sides of the U.S- Mexico border. She is currently working on a book manuscript based on that work. Her most recent article is “Mobile Capital, Immobile Labor: Inequality and Opportunity in the Tortilla Industry” (Social Justice Journal, forthcoming fall 2004).