Family Activism: Immigrant Struggles and the Politics of Noncitizenship

Family Activism: Immigrant Struggles and the Politics of Noncitizenship

Family Activism: Immigrant Struggles and the Politics of Noncitizenship

Family Activism: Immigrant Struggles and the Politics of Noncitizenship


During the past ten years, legal and political changes in the United States have dramatically altered the legalization process for millions of undocumented immigrants and their families. Faced with fewer legalization options, immigrants without legal status and their supporters have organized around the concept of the family as a political subject--a political subject with its rights violated by immigration laws.
Drawing upon the idea of the "impossible activism" of undocumented immigrants, Amalia Pallares argues that those without legal status defy this "impossible" context by relying on the politicization of the family to challenge justice within contemporary immigration law. The culmination of a seven-year-long ethnography of undocumented immigrants and their families in Chicago, as well as national immigrant politics, Family Activism examines the three ways in which the family has become politically significant: as a political subject, as a frame for immigrant rights activism, and as a symbol of racial subordination and resistance.
By analyzing grassroots campaigns, churches and interfaith coalitions, immigrant rights movements, and immigration legislation, Pallares challenges the traditional familial idea, ultimately reframing the family as a site of political struggle and as a basis for mobilization in immigrant communities.


As I reflect on eight years of fieldwork and the hundreds of people I have met in the process of researching and writing this book, I return to the images of four undocumented mothers whose different circumstances have deeply informed my quest for understanding what the immigrant movement seeks, and what would be considered socially just outcomes in a context of diverse and differentiated claims.

Elvira Arellano, who motivated me to embark on this project, was a twentyeight-year-old activist from Michoacan and the mother of seven-year-old citizen Saul when she sought sanctuary in a Methodist church in 2006, stating that it was inhumane to separate a mother and child and that deporting her was like deporting her son. One year later she was deported after leaving the church on a tour of different sanctuary churches throughout the country. Today Elvira is an activist in Mexico, working for the rights of Central American and Mexican immigrants and deportees.

Flor Crisostomo was twenty-nine years old when she followed in Elvira’s footsteps and sought sanctuary in the same church in January 1998. An activist with Centro Sin Fronteras (CSF) and a factory worker of Zapotec origin, she was a single mother of three small children in Mexico when she decided to migrate alone in order to support her children. While she had no citizen children, she linked her claim to remain in the United States to her economic displacement as an indigenous woman in Mexico as a consequence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Flor left sanctuary in October 2008 and remains in the United States.

Rosi Carrasco, fifty-four, works in a Chicago social service organization and has deep ties to several immigrant rights organizations. She has lived in the United States for seventeen years, since she and her daughters followed her husband, who had a job and the promise of legalization by an employer, which never came to fruition. She is a member of an entirely undocumented family with an extensive trajectory of activism. Her husband, Martin, is the founder of a workers’ organization, and her daughters, Tania and Ireri, are founding members of the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL). All four family members have lobbied; organized marches, protests, and rallies; and personally participated in acts of civil disobedience. In recent years, Rosi has supported the youth movement and worked intensively with parents of young activists engaging in civil disobedience. She has recently founded an organization of undocumented immigrants and allies of many ages.

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