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The effect of immigration law enforcement on workplace safety

  • Location
  • Date and time

    February 24, 2022
    12:00 - 13:00

Abstract: Workplace safety in the US has improved dramatically over the last 50 years and as a result the number of work-related fatalities went from approximately 14,000 around 1970 to 5,333 fatal work injuries in 2019. Even though work-related fatalities have decreased in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the work force, the decrease in work-related fatalities percentagewise for immigrants lags behind. Immigrants are over-represented in these statistics; in 2019 20% of fatal work-related injuries concerned Hispanic or Latin employees and 12% Black or African American employees.

In this paper we analyze the effect of local enforcement of immigration laws on workplace safety. We use the implementation of local enforcement of immigration through section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act as a shock during the period 2002-2011. Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act can influence workplace safety in two ways. First, stricter immigration laws result in immigrant families wanting to stay under the radar to avoid possible detention and deportation of unauthorized family members. As a result, immigrant workers in mixed-status households feel less inclined to speak up about workplace safety, which results in less safe working environments. Second, the fear of deportation drives illegal immigrants out of (illegal) labor and hence places an additional financial strain on the income of mixed-status households. The additional financial strain results in more (working hours of) legal immigrants within these mixed-status families in possible hazardous jobs.

We exploit spatial-temporal variation in the implementation of 287(g) within the US. We compare the establishments’ number of work-related reported injuries from counties with 287(g) to establishments from neighboring counties, before and after the implementation of 287(g). We find a 4% increase in (fatal) injuries and illnesses after the implementation of the immigration law. In sum, we show that the implementation of strict immigration laws might result in negative externalities for legal immigrants within mixed status households. This increase in unsafe working environments increases inequality between immigrant and non-immigrant employees.

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