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Illegal migration involves people moving away from a country of origin to another country in which they reside in violation of local citizenship laws. Entry into the receiving country can be legal (student, temporary work, or tourist visas) or illegal (crossing the border from places other than the legal entry ports). Illegal immigration has been studied widely and systematically only since the 1980s, partly because of the difficulties involved in obtaining information. The literature shows that illegal immigrants in most countries share certain characteristics closely related to their position of insecurity, fear, and precarious existence. Multiple reasons lead to people’s movement from their country of origin to another illegally. Typically, illegal immigrants seek better livelihoods for themselves and their families, or seek to avoid persecution. Lack of and/or poor statistical recording systems and the illegal status and high spatial mobility of migrants make the measurement of numbers extremely unreliable.
Theoretical frameworks (such as classical migration theory based on push-pull factors and Marxist labor-market theory based on social class within capitalist expansionism) that have historically dominated international migration analyses have focused on men. Where mentioned, women are incorporated as a component of the male study respondents’ social capital,” or network of social ties that influence potential costs, risks, and benefits associated with the men’s migration (Massey & Espinosa 1997).
The growing selection of explicitly gendered field studies that took off during the 1980s reveals the great complexity of issues migrant women face, particularly as they intersect with the fate of children. Studies initially were concerned with how to add” women to the migration field, where their presence was either peripheral or simply invisible.
They often appeared when issues of employment or reproductive rights were discussed. Numerous studies in the 1990s, however, placed women at the center of analysis as proper agents of structural and social change, thus reconceptualizing tools central to conventional models of migration, such as regulating the patterns of skill transfer, household decision-making, labor market segmentation dynamics, networking, and residential location choice. These studies debunk some of the myths on migration in general and illegal migration in particular by addressing issues pertinent to female migration, kinship relations, and the interconnections among gender, class, and race.
Thousands of people living without status in different parts of the world face the fear and very real threat of deportation or imprisonment. This situation prevents many people of low social status not only from obtaining decent employment, but also from using services such as social housing, education, health care, social assistance, and emergency services, including police protection. An example is the 1994 Proposition 187 in California, barring illegal immigrants from non-emergency health care and public schooling (the proposition was later found to be unconstitutional) and the various reports presented by undocumented women.
The DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) Toronto Campaign is a policy which presents a local solution to the problem by preventing city employees from inquiring about the immigration status of people accessing city services. Also, it prohibits city employees from sharing information with federal and provincial enforcement agencies, including the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), on the immigration status of anyone accessing city services. This policy represents a recognition of some of the most pressing theoretical and practical concerns of transnational anti-racist feminist solidarity, which would provide all workers, including illegal workers, with a structure of dignity and societal inclusion.
- Massey, D. & Espinosa, K. (1997) What’s driving Mexico—US migration? A theoretical empirical and policy analysis. American Journal of Sociology 102: 939—99.
- Massey, D., Durand, J., & Malone, N. (2002) Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration. Russell Sage Foundation, New York.
- Kimer, J. T. (2005) A generation of migrants. NACLA Report on the Americas 39 (1): 31—7.