The Struggles of Modern Migration

Exploring the ‘Fluidity of Status’ at the MAH

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Photo by Alonso Hernandez
Photo by Alonso Hernandez

A man deported and trapped in a country foreign to him, a woman bound in servitude to her employer — these stories echoed within the Museum of Art and History (MAH) as experts engaged in conversation with the community on what it is to be a non-citizen.

The Chicano Latino Research Center and Institute for Humanities Research at UC Santa Cruz sponsored a year-long series funded by the Mellon Foundation. The three-part series discussed slavery and labor rights among different communities throughout history.

About 200 community members gathered at the MAH on April 18 for the final event in the series — The Fluidity of Status: Non-citizenship, Deportation and Indentured Mobility. The talk focused on creating a global understanding of what it means to be a non-citizen and was driven by the unrest in the UCSC community and nation following actions of the Trump administration.

“[The event] explores the ways in which individuals in groups are incorporated, marginalized or excluded in societies around the world and at different moments in time,” said event organizer, director of the Chicano Latino Research Center and associate professor Catherine Ramírez.

Tanya Golash-Boza, professor of sociology at UC Merced and Rhacel Parreñas, professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California headlined the event with two lectures on deportation and migrant domestic workers.

Deportation

Golash-Boza started the evening telling the story of Ryan, a Jamaican-born immigrant who was legally living in the U.S. for most of his life. Ryan was a college student deported due to a clerical error in his permanent citizenship paperwork after being arrested for drug possession. Ryan had not been back to his country of birth since he immigrated at six years old.

This is not a unique story. Four million people have been deported from the U.S. in the past two decades — 98 percent of them Latin American and 90 percent men — according to Golash-Boza’s research. She explains how legal permanent residents can be deported from the U.S. with minimal or no due process because they have no right to representation in immigration proceedings and can be deported without a full hearing.

“Deportations have been going on for a long time. They are not something that just started with the Trump administration and they disproportionately affect Latino/Latinas,” Golash-Boza said. “It’s gotten a lot more attention but now much more remains to be seen.”

Migrant Domestic Workers

Parreñas then took the stage and shifted the talk from deportation in Latin America to migrant domestic workers across the globe. Migrant domestic workers travel to a country to work for a single employer or sponsor, most often as housemaids or child caretakers. Nearly all of them are women. Migrant domestic workers also live with their employers because their legal residency is dependent on their employer.

Due to this dependency, the employer can treat the worker in whatever way they please with an assurance that the employee cannot leave their job. This often results in abuse and poor living conditions — a modern slave and master dynamic, Parreñas said.

“Domestic workers represent the largest group of migrant workers globally,” Parreñas said. “It’s really important to foreground that they’re unfree workers, that they are not freed persons but instead bound laborers.”

Parreñas studied the lives of domestic workers both in the countries of their employment and in their countries of origin. She recalled traveling to the Philippines and sitting in on a mandatory class domestic workers had to take before being shipped off to the country of their employer.

In the class, the teacher went into detail about the conditions workers could face after migrating — many of them would be underfed or sexually assaulted by their employer. Yet when asked if any of them had changed their minds, they all said no.

“I want to know what that experience is like […] they knowingly put themselves in that situation,” Parreñas said. “What is it like for them or their perspective? Why do they risk it? Why are they not afraid?”

As the talks ended, Catherine Ramírez, event organizer, director of the Chicano Latino Research Center and associate professor, opened the conversation. Audience members asked questions to the lecturers about global unrest and the fears of deportations in the city of Santa Cruz and the impending fear of President Donald Trump’s wall.

“What’s happening here and what’s happening in other places, because of laws and policies, […] reflects on a global view of migration and labor rights or a lack thereof,” Ramírez said.

The relationships between citizens and non-citizens in America are closely intertwined with non-citizens being students, workers, or even family members, Ramírez said. With the unrest in the country regarding the safety of immigrants there is a need to step back and look at the affected communities.

“People might have [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] DACA, people might have a green card, people might have nothing and be undocumented but they work very closely with citizens.” Ramírez said. “They care for their children they clean their homes so we wanted to explore these intricacies and these contradictions.”