Summer University in Social Work 

Narratives of Deservingness and the Institutional Youth of Immigrant Workers

Prof. Shannon Gleeson — Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, USA

This paper critically examines two arenas of relief for undocumented immigrants in the United States: 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 challenges inherent in each set of exclusive criteria, which provoke 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 through the current U-Visa program and proposals for a pathway to citizenship for those workers involved in collective organizing. In doing so, I highlight how institutions have unevenly incorporated immigrant worker. 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.

  • Barron, Pierre, Anne Bory, Sébastien Chauvin, Nicolas Jounin, and Lucie Tourette. 2016. “State Categories and Labour Protest: Migrant Workers and the Fight for Legal Status in France.” Work, Employment & Society 30 (4).
  • Gleeson, Shannon, and Roberto Gonzales. 2012. “When Do Papers Matter? An Institutional Analysis of Undocumented Life in the United States.” International Migration 50 (4): 1–19.
  • Gleeson, Shannon. 2015. “Narratives of Deservingness and the Institutional Youth of Immigrant Workers.” Association of Mexican American Educators Journal 9 (3): 47–61.
  • Gleeson, Shannon. 2015. “‘They Come Here to Work’: An Evaluation of the Economic Argument in Favor of Immigrant Rights.” Citizenship Studies 19 (3-4): 400–420.
  • Paret, Marcel, and Shannon Gleeson. 2016. “Precarity and Agency Through a Migration Lens.” Citizenship Studies 20 (3-4): 277–94.
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