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Narrowing the Citizenship Gap for Undocumented Immigrants: A Case Study of the Mid-Michigan Worker Center.

By Alice B. Gates


Based on an in-depth analysis of the formation and operations of the Mid-Michigan Worker Center (MMWC), this dissertation explores the emergence of Worker Centers and their role in organizing and supporting undocumented immigrant workers in contemporary U.S. society. This research addresses both empirical and theoretical gaps in our understanding of how vulnerable groups are responding to the “citizenship gap”—the legal limbo faced by transnational migrants who lack full recognition and standing in the country in which they work. The MMWC demonstrates the benefits of organizational hybridity—specifically, the combination of organizing and direct services—in support of populations who are excluded from many mainstream institutions. As Worker Centers blur the boundaries between these different approaches, they are also sites where members of an excluded group come together to learn about and discuss their rights. While rights education, a central element of many Worker Centers, is designed to empower undocumented immigrants, analysis reveals that these workshops can have unintended and potentially harmful consequences. Some workers overestimate their rights or assert rights in ways that may increase their risk of detention or deportation. Despite these potential problems, however, Worker Centers are places where undocumented immigrants articulate basic entitlements to human dignity. Small Worker Centers like the MMWC may lack the institutional infrastructure to translate these sentiments into concrete improvements for members, but these local organizations are part of an emerging movement of workers who, despite their exclusion from national labor laws, are asserting their human right to organize for respect and dignity

Topics: Worker Centers, Undocumented Immigrants, Community Organization
Year: 2011
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