Constrained Choices: Latina Immigrants Negotiating Work, Family, and Legality in the New South Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Straut Eppsteiner, Holly
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology
  • Undocumented people are often described as living and working “in the shadows.” This framing identifies the illegality of migrants as an individual characteristic. Yet federal, state, and local policies are structural features that shape the meaning and consequences of being unauthorized in the United States. Latinas have increasingly joined migration streams and now constitute 46 percent of unauthorized people in the United States. In this dissertation, I identify the constraints and opportunities for Latina immigrant workers in North Carolina, a new destination state. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 48 women, as well as a focus group with women from five North Carolina counties, I analyze women’s experiences with work, family, and migration across the life course. Women’s accounts revealed that workers’ identities were frequently formed through early labor force participation in their countries of origin. Once in the United States, women’s labor force participation was increasingly constrained by employment restrictions targeting the undocumented at the same time that they faced the pull of family demands as they married and had children. In response to these constraints, women turned to work in so-called “nonstandard” employment relationships such as subcontracted work and self-employment. In some cases, these arrangements represent a survival strategy associated with exploitation and poor job quality. In other cases, nonstandard employment suggests a “strategy of resistance” in which women create mobility pathways associated with improved job quality and the achievement of work-family balance. Findings contribute to understanding the macro- and micro-level forces shaping intersectional inequality for U.S. immigrant populations and hold policy implications at state and federal levels.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Kleinman, Sherryl
  • Hagan, Jacqueline
  • Cohen, Philip N.
  • Lopez-Sanders, Laura
  • Kalleberg, Arne
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2018

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