Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2012


In Copyright


The desire to tailor our immigration system to the economic interests of our nation is as old as its founding. Yet after more than two centuries of regulatory tinkering, we seem no closer to finding the right balance. Contemporary observers largely ascribe this failure to conflicts over immigration. Shifting the focus, I suggest here that longstanding disagreements in the world of economic regulations — in particular, tensions over the government’s role in regulating labor conditions and employment practices — also explains much of the difficulty behind formulating a policy approach to immigration. In other words, we cannot reach a political consensus on how to regulate immigration in part because we cannot agree on the role that the government should play in labor and employment regulations.

This essay argues that labor and employment regulations have traditionally imagined government intervention in three distinct ways. Each envisions government intervention at a different level in the national economy. Each adheres to a different view about what kind of employment terms the government should set, if any. As political and ideological frameworks, these three approaches offer insights into how economic regulations pertaining to labor and employment, including those regulations pertaining to immigration. Indeed, these three approaches have not only shaped the historical development of our nation’s immigration laws, but also continue to divide efforts toward comprehensive reform today.

Publication Title

Washburn Law Journal

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