Tire following analysis draws on 24 semi-structured key-informant interviews conducted in Baltimore, Mexico City, New York City, Santa Fe. and Washington. DC (2014-2015, and some follow-ups in 2016 and 2018) with
Networks for portable migrant labor rights 49 executive directors or staff of diaspora-serving organizations such as labor unions, transnational labor solidarity organizations, worker centers, inunigrant advocacy organizations, and human rights and legal aid organizations. We complement this data with ethnographic field notes from two events in 2017: a trinational labor gathering discussing labor responses to the renegotiation of NAFTA in Chicago and an action research panel organized by the authors on migrant rights enforcement across borders at the annual Law and Society Association conference in Mexico City. All interviews were tape-recorded and fully transcribed.
Through these data, we examine the genesis and development of petitions to the NAALC aimed at improving the conditions of temporary migrant workers. We highlight the importance of civil society organizations that petition and deploy a double-boomerang strategy to institutionalize partnerships with labor standard agencies in both countries. In doing so, they have pushed for greater transparency and accountability from Mexican and US governments and formed new transnational labor advocacy networks and strategic alliances, but they face multiple challenges to creating legally enforceable changes.
Findings: building cross-border labor advocacy coalitions
A labor standards enforcement framework that respects the portability of migrant rights requires coordination between government agents and migrant worker advocates. Hie 2006 UN High-Level Dialogue on Migration sanctioned an orthodox Northern narrative on migration and development that centered migration management on the global governance agenda with a secondary focus on migrant worker rights. Government bodies also vary in then- engagements with diaspora organizations and migrant worker advocates. Democratic states tend to either allow or encourage dual political engagements, while more autocratic regimes restrict political and social rights.29 In parallel, civil society actors propose local, regional, and bilateral migr ant rights goals, but these have little overlap with the (non-binding and largely symbolic) international governance framework on inunigrant and refugee rights.
Challenges facing transnational migrant labor advocacy
In pursuit of migrant labor advocacy goals, unions and grassroots (and gr ass-tops) NGOs have come together to force government accountability and ensure the implementation of labor rights. However, the ability of inunigrant civil society to access resources and cany out their work can vary significantly across receiving regions, and sending regions too can differ in their ability to advocate for their compatriots abroad.30
Networks in Mexico and the United States face funding imbalances and different negotiating power vis-à-vis regional governments, which have expanded over time. In 1980, Mexico had six human rights organizations, and by 2010, there were more than 1,100 human rights organizations, many of them advocating on behalf of transit migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where poverty, unemployment, and unfettered violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors has produced an exodus of migrants.31 Yet, by comparison, Mexico’s civil society infrastructure is spread thin with 3.6 civil society organizations per 10,000 inhabitants compared to 65.1 per 10,000 inhabitants in the United States.32 Many organizations in Mexico struggle to obtain funding in a country where social inequality has maintained low levels of social capital and trust. Regional differentials in organizational density emerge as Mexican NGOs are frequently dependent on US and Canadian funding sources to operate, exacerbating existing hierarchies of power and influence between Mexican and US labor advocates. This in turn limits their ability to contest economic forces in the neoliberal capitalist era that trample on migrant rights. The unequal distribution of resources among existing networks of transnational advocates in the North American region - which Armer and Evans dub “the double divide”33 - also make it difficult to coordinate successful campaigns that challenge the power and influence of agribusmess and international labor recruiters, and that are capable of enacting meaningful reforms for mi grant worker rights.
This disparity is consequential given that immigrants commonly face labor and employment law violations and struggle to access social protections in host countries. A thin and scarcely funded civil society infra-strucnue dedicated to serving diasporas forces migrants to rely on complex government brueaucracies to claim rights as the only avenue for redress. Key issues facing migrant workers currently include wage theft, occupational safety and health violations, and a rise in powerful countervailing forces, such as criminal international recruiters taking advantage of the lack of a transparent recruitment system to cormnit fraud. A weak enforcement system has allowed abuse to flourish with impunity.34 While levying sanctions seems to improve employer compliance, at least with regard to wage and hour standards, we know less about the dynamics of cross-border initiatives.
We start by recognizing that immigrant worker rights, as accorded by international conventions such as the United Nations, the International Labour Organization, and the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, are largely hortatory and lack the possibilities of effective enforcement in national courts. On the other hand, US law affords immigrants a range of health, education, and labor rights, which must still be enforced.35
Thus, here our ami is to uncover the strategies and strategic network alliances that advocates employ to force accountability of US labor rights across jurisdictions.