Making space for respite : care work in the immigrant rights movement on the U.S.-Mexico border

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2021-08-12

Authors

Márquez, Alejandro Márquez

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Abstract

My research focuses on nonprofit organizations, part of a broad immigrant rights movement, working on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to provide much-needed assistance to migrants and asylum seekers. These organizations manage physically and emotionally demanding tasks that highlight the practical implications of helping displaced people. In my dissertation I ask, why do frontline caregivers assisting migrants and asylum seekers on the border stay committed despite low or no pay? How do they manage organizational resource scarcities that increase individual workloads and result in burnout? I answer these questions by analyzing how staff and volunteers provide legal aid and hospitality services in two nonprofit organizations in El Paso, Texas. During 2017-2018, I conducted participant observation in a legal aid office and at a migrant shelter for a combined 13 months while also conducting 51 interviews with caregivers. This allowed me to investigate the relationship between the practical and emotional hardships within the social movement helping migrants and asylum seekers. I find that these resource-scarce organizations manage not just the physical conglomeration of migrants and asylum seekers, but also their collective suffering. Caregivers and their organizations become selective service providers, favoring migrant cases that are winnable in the case of the legal aid office, or families that are more self-sufficient and easier to manage in the case of the shelter. Individuals physically and emotionally distance themselves from caregiving while maintaining cognitive attachments to the work. Case selectivity and detached attachments, as I respectively term these coping strategies, are articulated in the everyday life of the movement. These practices also generate meanings and moralities that enable caregivers to care adequately for the migrants they can care for, and manage their own emotions when they cannot. Research on emotions and social movements mostly focuses on how highly emotional experiences make people join social movements. I look at how emotions are also an outcome of the practices taking place in social movements. I show that everyday caregiving practices in social movements shape, in this case sustain, commitment to social change.

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