Alice C. Anderson

Alice C. AndersonClass of 2012
Note & Comment Editor, Volume 37
Staff, Volume 36

The Uneasy Reality: Undocumented Workers in the United States and Rural Peasant Workers in China

Alice C. Anderson

Volume 37 - Issue 1, Fall 2011


A nation-state's treatment of laborers within its territory traditionally belong to the government's domestic policies while the international law principle of sovereignty gives each nation-state the right to control the affairs of their domestic issues. However, the United States' treatment towards their undocumented workers triggers human rights law violations and warrants the attention of the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO). Though it may be too simple to observe that the United States' immigration policy switched from border control to labor control in 1986 with the Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA), there is no doubt about IRCA's adverse effect: the creation of a subclass of workers.

This uneasy reality in the United States goes mostly unnoticed in the international arena. Yet the United States, now scrambling to hold onto its economy, is also losing its luster in preserving basic human rights for all individuals. An unlikely comparison with China, a fast-growing international economic player that also faces pressure from international human rights watch organizations, distills the United States' poor treatment of undocumented workers. China, like the United States, through a government-implemented registration system, also created a subclass of workers.

It is this Comment's hope that by pulling the lens back on the immigration debates in the United States by comparing the current status of undocumented workers in the United States to the current status of peasant migrants in China and using well-accepted international human and labor rights norms as a guide, the analysis may kick-start a breakthrough on the current impasse the United States face in its immigration reform efforts. A wake-up call in this uneasy comparison may spur the United States to look to international human and labor rights norms for guidance in improving its treatment towards undocumented workers without compromising immigration goals and policies.

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