304.2 Explaining Mexican communities' contrasting relationships to the U.S. illegality state

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 12:50 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Abigail ANDREWS , Sociology, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
In California, Mexican migrants’ “illegal” status excludes them politically, makes them vulnerable as workers, and subjects them to fear of deportation. Nevertheless, relationships vary between Mexican communities and the US state.  In this research, I compare the experiences two rural, Oaxacan hometowns.  On one hand, migrants from the community of Cajonos, living in Los Angeles, called the United States their “second motherland” and supported reformist shifts in migration policy.  They tended to cooperate with the police and recur to legal channels to contest employment violations.  Despite their poverty, they also rejected welfare services.  Finally, several spurned immigration protests as a tarnish on their reputations.   In these migrants’ lives, the state intervened as beneficent regulator, “protecting” them from ills ranging from traffic violations to violenceIts power operated through migrants’ consent.  In contrast, in nearby Vista, California migrants from Tlacotepec described US life in terms of suffering and the state as despotic. They pursued radical change in the migration regime, protesting border policies and demanding support from the Mexican consulate.  They avoided and felt persecuted by the police.  For this community, the state acted as punisher and threat, fragmenting migrants’ political organizing and exerting power through coercion.

I argue that migrant communities’ divergent relationships to the US state reflect their contrasting, local-level systems of US migration.  In the case of Los Angeles-Cajonos, migrants operated in a linear migration system, wherein they opted into migration for social reasons such as feminism and personal escape from the social environment of their home village.  In the other case, Vista-Tlacotepec, migrants were part of a historically circular migration system that linked them to the US for economic reasons, often dividing families across borders.  These systems channeled them into different parts of the US state apparatus and labor structure, and organized their relationship to illegality differently.