“Off the Clock”: Generating Resources in Temporary Agricultural Labor

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
David TROUILLE, James Madison University, USA
This paper is a case study of the people and institutions that in part facilitated, managed, and controlled the movements and resources available to approximately 50 Mexican migrant workers in Virginia. The men were employed as temporary agricultural workers under the H2-A visa program, picking apples and cutting branches from early-September through mid-December.

While seemingly isolated by the conditions of their labor and housing, the men interacted with a range of people and institutions beyond the apple company on both sides of the border. These included familiar components of the “migration industry,” such as labor recruiters, paper processers, and moneylenders in Mexico and money senders, communication providers, ride givers, and miscellaneous vendors in Virginia. In addition to financially motivated actors, “rescue industry” groups, such as local religious, health, and legal organizations, offered a range of resources to the men free-of-charge. In some cases, service providers merged and transitioned from one ideal type to the other.

In charting these diverse exchanges and interactions over a three-year period, the paper provides detailed evidence of the inner-workings and contingencies of the migration industry. In particular, it draws attention to the emergence and organization of resource exchanges on the ground, whether driven by profit and/or goodwill. As one example, the paper describes how ride givers and the men created and negotiated services and payments. The paper also highlights the men’s situational and contingent understandings of exploitation, solidarity, and survival in migration industry exchanges. For example, some seemingly exorbitant costs were more acceptable than others and the men adopted more efficient and affordable ways of acquiring contacts and services not provided by the company. Taken together, the men’s experiences generating resources when “off the clock” sheds important light on the social implications of temporary agricultural work, a growing yet largely invisible segment of U.S. immigration.