The public has a justifiable concern about the existence of illegal sweatshops, given the pervasive rise of companies violating minimum wage and overtime laws.

-The U.S. Department of Labor found in 2000 that 60% of US nursing homes routinely violated overtime, minimum wage, or child labor laws.

-Another 2004 study using DOL data found that 54% of contractors in the Los Angeles garment industry violated the minimum wage law.

-And in 2005, a survey of hundreds of New York City restaurants found that more than half were violating overtime or minimum wage laws. Instead of allowing the right-wing to scapegoat undocumented immigrant workers, Progressive States Network will be working with progressive leaders across the country to introduce wage enforcement laws that emphasize that native and immigrant workers both suffer under illegal working conditions.

See State Immigration Project: Policy Options for 2009 for the full range of immigration policies Progressive States Network is supporting in upcoming legislative sessions.

By promoting these wage enforcement laws, advocates and progressive state leaders are highlighting a few key points:

-Only a minority of those working under illegal work conditions are undocumented immigrants;

-Our nation’s systematic lack of wage law enforcement has contributed to the dysfunction of our immigration system; and,

-The denial of employment rights to such immigrants has further undermined wage law enforcement, thereby feeding more low-wage immigration. Recognizing this reality, state leaders are increasingly moving beyond punishing immigrant workers toward concentrating on raising wages for all workers and increasing penalties for wage law violators across the board. Eliminating sweatshops removes most of the incentive for employers to recruit undocumented workers in the first place, making it more likely that undocumented immigrants will be hired only where legitimate labor shortages exist.

Since going after employers who violate wage laws politically unites all workers, immigrant and native alike, cracking down on those employers will actually strengthen the progressive political base. This Stateside Dispatch highlights how wage law enforcement bills can reframe the debate on immigration, how they help raise needed funds for cash-strapped state budgets, and the key provisions such bills should include to crack down on the low-road employers who violate minimum wage and other wage laws.

Please join us this Thursday, September 25th at 2:00pm (EDT) for a conference call where we will further discuss strategies for the coming legislative session. For more information and to RSVP, please visit