Luchando para salir adelante : economic migration, social ties and poverty resistance strategies of undocumented Latin American immigrants to Texas

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2016-05

Authors

Scott, Jennifer Lauren

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Abstract

In the contemporary context of economic inequality, policies of immigrant exclusion have shifted focus to Latino immigrants, particularly the undocumented. Such policies and the prejudice inspiring them further marginalize undocumented people who are already excluded from formal employment and state resources. Still, over 6 million undocumented Latinos make the U.S. their home. In the face of this social and economic exclusion, how do they survive economically? Research on the ‘survival question’ has shifted over the last several decades from understanding survival as reliant on strong social ties, to weaker ties, to ties considered “disposable.” Is this pattern consistent among all economically excluded groups? This mixed-methods study investigated poverty resistance strategies of undocumented Latino immigrants. I analyzed nationally representative data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation to measure their economic wellbeing. Second, I used thematic analysis of 49 in-depth interviews with undocumented Latinos, informed by observation, to explore their survival strategies use of social ties. Undocumented Latinos were significantly more likely to face hardship measured by direct indicators (material hardship and food insecurity) than their documented counterparts. Social support reduced this likelihood of hardship. La lucha frames participation in economic life by connecting economic experiences to broader economic and sociopolitical forces, to a strategy for coping with life in an increasingly hostile socioeconomic context, and to a goal, salir adelante, to get ahead. Palancas, social ties defined by connections to resources, structure social networks. Their use strengthens access to resources and the connections themselves. Navigating la lucha, undocumented Latinos practice administration to maximize resources from formal sector work and informal sales in conjunction with social ties. The undocumented Latino experience suggests that the prior assessment of increasing reliance on weaker social ties may not be universal among the economically excluded. Although undocumented Latinos may face greater economic hardship, reduction in hardship with social support and reliance on social ties indicates a need for interventions that strengthen ties to reinforce economies of scale. Challenges they face to get ahead point to economic, immigration and social welfare policy reform necessary to ensure their ability to salir adelante out of the shadows.

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