Advocates commonly highlight the exploitation that hard-working undocumented immigrants commonly suffer at the hands of employers, the important contribution they make to the US economy, and the fiscal folly of border militarization and enhanced immigration enforcement policies. In this paper, I unpack these economic rationales for expanding immigrant rights, and examine the nuanced ways in which advocates deploy this frame. To do so, I rely on statements issued by publicly present immigrant rights groups in six places: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Washington, DC. I also draw on interviews with immigrant advocates in San Jose, CA and Houston, TX, press releases from two alternative national immigrant rights organizations, and an ethnographic photo-documentation of immigrant rights mobilizations in 2012-2014. Economic rationales, I emphasize, can be found in each of these contexts, but are not mutually exclusive to other justifications, including narratives about civil, human, and family rights for immigrants. However, I argue that an economic framing of immigrant rights nonetheless runs the risk reifying work over conventional understandings of criminality, often relies on a narrow definition of economic worth, and could have negative consequences for coalition building.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/shannon-gleeson/4/