Willing to Work: Agency and Vulnerability in an Undocumented Immigrant Network
journal contributionposted on 2011-01-09, 00:00 authored by Ruth Gomberg-Munoz
Restriction-oriented immigration policies and polarizing political debates have intensified the vulnerability of undocumented people in the United States, promoting their “willingness” to do low-wage, low-status work. This essay draws on ethnographic research with undocumented immigrants in Chicago to examine the everyday strategies that undocumented workers develop to mediate constraints and enhance their well-being. In particular, I explore how a cohort of undocumented Mexican immigrants cultivates a social identity as “hard workers” to promote markets for their labor and bolster dignity and self-esteem. Much of the existing literature on unauthorized labor migration has focused on the structural conditions that encumber immigrants and constrain their opportunities. By shifting the focus to workers’ agency, this article complements these analyses and shows how undocumented immigrants actively navigate the terrain of work and society in the United States.