Beyond the "Chilling Effect": Immigrant Worker Behavior and the Regulation of Occupational Safety & Health


Jayesh M. Rathod

This article forms part of a broader scholarly project that seeks to understand the root causes of immigrant worker injury and fatality trends in the U.S., and the ways in which legal norms and regulatory practices shape these trends. This particular contribution examines the broad range of attributes and experiences that influence immigrant worker behavior relating to occupational safety and health -- in the context of interactions with employers and regulatory bodies, and relating to the choices that workers themselves make about how to perform their work. 

Drawing upon scholarship from multiple disciplines, the article encourages a more robust understanding of immigrant worker behavior, and highlights how a range of legal norms influence safety-related behavior, often in unexpected ways. In so doing, the article critiques existing legal discourses relating to immigrants, which often position worker behavior as a function of immigration status. While questions of status undoubtedly weigh heavily on foreign-born workers, the emphasis on status to the exclusion of other factors obscures the rich interplay between immigration status, other structural forces, worker characteristics, and expressions of individual agency. 

The shift in emphasis recommended by the article validates the importance of individual worker attributes and experiences, which, at times, are subsumed in debates about immigration status broader structural conditions. It also acknowledges the autonomy of immigrant workers and the multiple forms of resistance practiced by these workers. In short, the article is premised on a theory of agency that situates immigrant worker behavior as a product of both individual autonomy and the structural conditions that shape human experiences and identities.