Undocumented Migrants

Border-Crossing, Illness, and Labor





undocumented migrants, US-Mexico border, undocumented illness, undocumented labor, migrant trail


Undocumented migrants in the US are often identified as threats to society or reluctantly acknowledged for their labor, essential to the US agricultural farms, construction industries, and food processing and packaging industries. In this essay, I argue for a slight reorientation in the understanding of migrant labor. I start by paring down the  undocumented migrants’ identity to their bare bodies. I zoom in on the moment of the border crossing, analyzing the immediate consequences of illegality on the migrant body. Migrants from Mexico and Central America regularly cross the US southern border through the Sonoran Desert, experiencing hyperthermia, dehydration, and intense disorientation. Many die in the desert. The few who make it across carry deep physical and emotional scars of the crossing, much beyond the border and into their lives as ‘illegals’ within the US territory. A second part of the essay will focus on the reconstructive efforts in migrant narratives to acknowledge undocumented migrants beyond their capacity to do the hard labor that citizens refuse to do. It will look at the physical and emotional symptoms (headaches, ulcers, sleep disorders, depression) of working in exploitative conditions, and living a life bereft of opportunities and in constant fear of incarceration and deportation. Juxtaposing the two approaches of disassociating an undocumented migrant’s body from their labor and then recognizing their labor in spite of their bodily limitations and disabilities can contribute to a more complex representation of an undocumented migrant’s identity.


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