5 Books about Immigration and Labor to Add to Your Reading List This Labor Day

September 5, 2021

Labor Day, which became a holiday in 1894, celebrates the dignity of every worker and the legacy of the worker movement in the United States. But for many workers who help keep America running but do not have a pathway to legal immigration status, their labor often goes unrecognized, unappreciated, and undervalued.

In fact, just today Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, calls for a pathway to citizenship in part as a way to recognize and honor the millions of immigrant essential workers that have helped us survive the pandemic.”

Now—my immigration research tends to focus squarely on the legal and political geography of immigration enforcement, race and policing, and borders. But that doesn’t mean I see immigration/migration issues as separate from the economics of migration. In fact, over the past several years as part of the Central Ohio Worker Center and now on the board of the Workers’ Center of Central New York, I have come to appreciate and understand the importance of connecting labor justice with immigrant justice from a grassroots perspective.

This labor day, I want to share with you five books about migration and labor. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. I’m almost embarrassed about how many books that I didn’t include! Such is the nature of trying to keep things short and sweet. Here’s my justification, though: I chose these five because they are (1) contemporary, (2) unique, and (3) accessible for a general audience (i.e. not too technical or academic). I’ve tried to provide links to the publishers’ websites when possible.

Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism by Tanya Maria Golash-Boza

I used this book in a course on crimmigration that I taught at the University of Michigan a few years ago and I found it to be a sophisticated yet incredibly readable text that examines the relationship between neoliberalism and immigration policing in an era of disposable labor.” Get it here. Follow Tanya’s work here.

The New American Farmer: Immigration, Race, And The Struggle For Sustainability By Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern

You may know that America’s food system depends on migrant farmworkers from south of the border. But did you also know that a growing segment of America’s farm owners are also immigrants? Laura-Anne uses first-hand research to talk about the challenges they face, the ways that our farming system makes these productive farm owners invisible, and how immigration enforcement makes them more vulnerable than native-born farm owners. Get it here. Learn more about Laura-Anne’s work.

Meatpacking America: How Migration, Work, and Faith Unite and Divide the Heartland by Kristy Nabhan-Warren

This is a brand new book and I must admit that I have not read it yet since it has not been released. I have, however, reviewed some of the materials surrounding the book and I think it’s worth adding it to this list. And after learning about the migrant labor in the chicken industry in the South from Angela Stuesse (see below), I’m eager to read more about the intersection of labor and faith with migrant workers in the Midwest. If you get to it first, let me know what you think. Get it here. Follow Kristy here on Twitter.

In 2019, ICE raided several chicken factories in Mississippi, the same factories where Angela conducted fieldwork for her book. Since then, she has been a key resource for journalists writing about exploitation in the chicken industry. Americans eat, on average, 92 pounds of chicken per year. Angela’s book explains how this industry creates a disposable underclass who are now fighting for their rights. Get it here. Follow Angela on Twitter or see her amazing website here.

Immigrants Under Threat: Risk and Resistance in Deportation Nation by Greg Prieto

I keep coming back to Greg Prieto’s book because I think he captures the tension between immigrant activism and immigrant survival better than anyone. Although perhaps not as directly about immigrant workers as the other books here (the fieldwork is not grounded in worksites, per se), Prieto’s examination of how immigrants deal with the financial costs of routine policing and economic resilience is very relevant. Get it here.

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