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Narratives of Deservingness and the Institutional Youth of Immigrant Workers

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This article speaks to the special issue’s goal of disrupting the deserving/undeserving immigrant narrative by critically examining eligibility criteria available under two arenas of relief for undocumented immigrants: 1) the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary deportation relief and work authorization for young adults who meet an educational requirement and other criteria, and 2) current and proposed pathways to legal status for those unauthorized immigrants who come forward to denounce workplace injustice, among other crimes. For each of these categories of “deserving migrants,” I illuminate the exclusionary nature each of these requirements, which pose challenges especially for those workers who have limited education. As such, I argue for the importance of an institutional perspective on youth. Specifically, I demonstrate how the educational criteria required by DACA privileges a select few individuals who have access to formal educational institutions as deserving, while ignoring other empowering but non-traditional models of worker education. I also examine those mechanisms that reward workers who come forward to contest employer abuse. These include the current U-Visa program, which opens a path to legal status for those select claimants who have been harmed by employer abuse and aid criminal investigations (e.g. Saucedo, 2010). In a similar vein, some advocates and legal scholars have proposed a pathway to citizenship for those workers involved in collective organizing (e.g. Gordon, 2007, 2011). I weigh the benefits and exclusivity of each pathway for addressing the precarity of the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. In doing so, I highlight how institutions have unevenly incorporated immigrant workers, creating wide categories of vulnerability that go ignored. That is, demographically young immigrants are often privileged as deserving, as are those institutionally mature workers who have been successfully incorporated by civic organizations and legal bureaucracies. Meanwhile, institutionally young immigrants—those who have been excluded from these spaces—are framed as undeserving. As a result, rather than to see legal status as a pathway to incorporation, it is extended as a reward for those who have surpassed longstanding barriers.

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immigrant workers; Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; DACA; young adults; workplace injustice


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Required Publisher Statement: © University of Texas at San Antonio. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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