Overview – The Undocumented Individuals

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The Undocumented Individuals
By Karla Cornejo Villavícencío
One World, 2021

In response to latest information from the Pew Analysis Heart, about 10.5 million undocumented migrants lived in america in 2021, which constitutes roughly 3% of the full US inhabitants (Passel and Krogstad, 2023). Regardless of undocumented migrants’ influence on US society and its financial system (particularly within the agriculture, development, and repair work sectors and by paying billions of {dollars} in taxes every year), their voices not often obtain a platform attributable to a mixture of the necessity for protecting invisibility in addition to xenophobia and racism. Non-fiction publications resembling Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s Undocumented (2016), Julissa Arce’s My (Underground) American Dream (2016), andAlberto Ledesma’s Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer (2017), in addition to InaBatzke’s scholarly monograph Undocumented Migrants in america (2019) on undocumented US life writing, supply intimate insights into the experiences of principally high-achieving migrants. In distinction, Karla Cornejo Villavícencío’s The Undocumented Individuals purposefully doesn’t heart on DACA (Deferred Motion for Childhood Arrivals) recipients who are usually portrayed as ‘deserving’ of safety. Villavícencío proclaims at first of her e book that she “didn’t got down to write something inspirational” (p.xvi). As an alternative, she presents a “high-energy imaging of trauma mind” and a précis of “shared ache” (p.xvi), filling a evident hole within the illustration of undocumented lives within the US.

Readers first encounter Villavícencío in a gripping vignette set in the course of the night time of the 2016 US presidential election. The writer powerfully declares that she “understood that night time could be [her] finish, however [she] wouldn’t be ushered to an internment camp in sweatpants” (p.xiii). The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency propelled Villavícencío to profile migrants in ways in which would replicate her household who’re greater than both “victims or dreamers” (p.xv). Stressing her collaborators’ precarity, the writer elucidates her methodology for gathering others’ tales: she modified all names within the e book, didn’t make voice recordings of conversations, and destroyed all notes and transcriptions (p.xv). The tip result’s a piece that skillfully mixes the genres of political testimonio, biography, ethnography, and memoir. Having lived as an undocumented migrant herself and never figuring out as a journalist set Villavícencío aside from different authors, as she can’t assist however get deeply concerned and “attempt to remedy shit the best way an immigrant’s youngsters attempt to remedy shit for his or her mother and father as a result of these persons are all my mother and father” (pp.114-5). She is open about psychological well being points — together with suicidal ideations — which have been probably precipitated each by having been left behind in Ecuador by her mother and father for a number of years on the age of eighteen months in addition to by the truth that, being “deportable,” she “by no means felt protected” within the US (p.60). One other means wherein her trauma expresses herself is within the type of immense guilt, as she feels “consistently disgusting, soiled, hungover, poisonous except I’m hemorrhaging cash on this very particular means that I deem cleaning” (p.153; emphasis in authentic). The empathy her e book conjures up due to the writer’s previous vigorously contrasts the prevalent demonization of migrants within the US and, consequently, produces beneficial information benefiting any dialog about international migration patterns.

The Undocumented Individuals is split into six areas functioning as case research for undocumented lives and the important thing points affecting them. The primary chapter collects proof of emotional and bodily abuse, cases of wage theft, and the prevalence of office hazards skilled by day laborers on Staten Island. Villavícencío overtly critiques how ideology and politics have created a man-made divide between migrant laborers and DACA recipients, marking “one a parasitic plight, the opposite heroic dreamers” (p.9). To counter this misrepresentation, the writer guarantees to “write about [undocumented day laborers] in a means they’d by no means been written about earlier than!” (p.28; emphasis in authentic). She succeeds with this purpose by highlighting the sacrifices migrants make to assist their kids thrive and by uncovering how, within the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2014, undocumented migrants put their well being on the road to scrub up New York Metropolis from poisonous water and particles. This distinctive content material renders the e book a must-read for anybody concerned with educating themselves about transnational migration.

Chapter two continues to discover the exploitation of migrant our bodies for the general public good by investigating undocumented labor on and round Floor Zero after September 11, 2001. As Villavícencío states, the “second responders have been undocumented immigrants” (p.32). A considerable quantity of them now endure from PTSD and different psychological well being situations in addition to extreme bodily well being points like most cancers. The writer makes use of uncensored language to explain the severity of the human rights abuses she catalogues, for instance when she exclaims that one in every of her interviewees’ “lungs obtained . . . fucked up” (p.39). It’s unclear what number of undocumented people died within the assaults as a result of the “undocumented usually work in intelligent methods to go away no paper path” and employers refused to share their names to keep away from being fined (p.49). Villavícencío defiantly lists the names of undocumented victims and shares their tales, together with the imagined last moments of an undocumented migrant within the Twin Towers, who places an ID between his enamel to be acknowledged — a futile effort because the ID is faux (p.56). The chapter additional investigates the anti-immigrant paranoia 9/11 unleashed which nonetheless manifests itself in draconian insurance policies such because the denial of drivers licenses to undocumented people. The chapter reverberates with undocumented migrants’ sentiment that “[t]hey don’t need us on this nation” (p.43). By assembling such first-hand testimony from affected migrants, The Undocumented Individuals accomplishes private information assortment that’s uncommon within the discipline of migration research. 

Specializing in neighborhood well being in Miami, the subsequent chapter clarifies that undocumented migrants can’t buy medical insurance, usually depend on various remedies as a result of they can not afford medical care, and plenty of die as a result of they’re rejected by hospitals (p.85). Villavícencío additionally outlines the day by day pressures of dwelling with out documentation, such because the stress from driving and not using a license in addition to the emotional, bodily, and sexual abuse many undocumented staff — particularly, undocumented ladies housekeepers — must endure to keep away from deportation (p.92). 

In Flint, Michigan, the place Villavícencío takes the reader in chapter 4, the general public well being disaster brought on by contaminated water affected undocumented migrants in distinctive methods, as a result of warning supplies have been solely accessible in English and undocumented individuals have been much less prone to open their doorways for public and army officers despatched to teach residents concerning the risks of consuming faucet water (p.96). Furthermore, some facilities that distributed bottled water required a state ID, which made clear water inaccessible to many (p.107). The writer paints Flint as a “microcosm of the best way the federal government treats the undocumented all over the place, making the situations on this nation as lethal and poisonous and inhumane as attainable so that we’ll self-deport” (p.115). In response to her, undocumented migrants throughout the nation are “being killed softly, silently, and with impunity” (p.115). Of their detailed recounting of the on a regular basis challenges undocumented migrants face, chapters three and 4 push again towards widespread xenophobic stereotypes that ostracize non-US residents as financial opportunists. Taken significantly, the writer’s findings may present productive nuance with regard to political rhetoric about social security networks and border safety.

In chapter 5, positioned in Cleveland, Ohio, Villavícencío digs into the trauma that household separation causes by retelling the story of a father of 4 who was deported after a visitors cease and two different fathers who sought sanctuary in church buildings. The youngsters in these households now endure from insomnia, PTSD, and consuming problems. Villavícencío forcefully rejects this remedy on an moral foundation, arguing that the “larger ethical regulation right here is that individuals have a human proper to maneuver, to alter location, in the event that they expertise starvation, poverty, violence, or lack of alternative, particularly if that local weather of their residence nations is created by america” (p.138). Scholarly research have persistently prompt that present US migration legal guidelines can lead to psychological harm for youngsters and adults alike (Hampton et al., 2021). The accounts collected on this e book add constructive qualitative information to the intense evaluation of the psychosomatic, social, and political results of undocumented migration.   

The Undocumented Individuals ends with a chapter set in New Haven, CT that scrutinizes ageing for undocumented migrants with “no security internet” (p.149) in a rustic that “takes their youth, their goals, their labor, and spits them out with nothing to point out for it” (p.149). Consequently, Villavícencío hears from neighborhood members who need to return to their nation of origin earlier than dying as they “don’t wish to reside in eternity in a spot the place [they are] not wished” (p.160). The struggles of ageing mother and father end in excessive stress on US-born kids to be flawless with a view to provoke their mother and father’ naturalization course of as soon as they flip twenty-one. With a latest uptick in migrants being detained at immigration hearings, although, this feature, too, is changing into ever riskier (p.163).

Regardless of the trauma, hardship, and oppression Villavícencío discovered about, few of her collaborators talked about “regrets” when it comes to their determination to return to the US (p.172). This commentary denotes one of many e book’s largest strengths, specifically its means to seize the complexity of undocumented migrants’ lives and, above all, their humanity.


Arce, Julissa. My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Turned a Wall Avenue Government. Heart Avenue, 2016.

Batzke, Ina. Undocumented Migrants in america: Life Narratives and Self-representations. Routledge, 2019.

Hampton, Kathryn, et al. “The Psychological Results of Pressured Household Separation on Asylum-In search of Youngsters and Mother and father on the US-Mexico Border: A qualitative Evaluation of Medico-Authorized Paperwork.”  PLoS One, vol. 16, no. 11, 2021.

Ledesma, Alberto. Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer: Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life. The Ohio State College Press, 2017.

Passel, Jeffrey S., and Jens Manuel Krogstad. “What We Find out about Unauthorized Immigrants Dwelling within the U.S.” Pew Analysis Heart, November 16, 2023. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/11/16/what-we-know-about-unauthorized-immigrants-living-in-the-us/. 

Peralta, Dan-el Padilla. Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League. Penguin Random Home, 2016.

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