Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Conceptualizing a Functional Migrant "Illegality"

The third way to think about migrant “illegality” is that there is always a point at which each vested interest can carve out – amidst both the structural and cultural conditioning forces I discussed above – a functional state of things that at once satisfies short term needs and provides potentially incipient elements for a still-to-emerge future state.  How that functional state is negotiated by vested interests and which constitutive elements are brought to bear is a result of both conditioning and agency.

To expound on this point, I discussed the case of savings by overstayer migrants arguing that the single fact of its possibility (as proven in the four cases of Bingo, Boy, Yumi and Subaru tabulated in Textbox 11) shows vested interests that may be instrinsically in opposition at some layers but also, at the same time, be tactically in cooperation in other layers.  As discussed, the stances of these three vested interests are, on the one hand, intrinsically in opposition at the political layer as this deals with sentiments of exclusion/inclusion based on membership entitlement by constitutents but, on the other hand, are simultaneously in tactical cooperation at the economic level as the benefits of cheap, compliant migrant labor powering industries that are constantly threatened with competition on a global scale immediately accrue to the same constituency.

The significant issue raised by this parallelism/coexistence of the political and economic manifestations of migrant “illegality” is not that this coexistence is possible but rather how that coexistence is achieved and maintained.   Given the highly polarized stances of the political manifestation of migrant “illegality” and its economic manifestation, I attempted to explain the inner workings of this co-existence thru Critical Realism’s concept of emergence.  I argued that the arrowheads of migrant “illegality” – the battlefronts, so to speak – are the day-to-day decisions (expressed through agency) of migrants where they negotiate roles and identities given both structural and cultural conditioning inputs.

To this end, we saw that this coexistence is made possible since from migrants’ reflexive agency on roles and identities emerges new elements that ultimately redound to a functional migrant “illegality.”  For example, I discussed how migrants with no legal status have a lower threshold on job satisfaction (i.e. they complain less about job conditions/pay and are more docile to job demands) and from this emerges skills transformation which, in turn, enables complementary sources of income.

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