Document Type


Publication Date

January 2010


Restriction-oriented immigration policies and polarizing political debates have intensified the vulnera- bility of undocumented people in the United States, promoting their “willingness” to do low-wage, low-status work. In this article, I draw on ethnographic research with undocumented immigrants in Chicago to examine the everyday strategies that undocumented workers develop to mediate constraints and enhance their well-being. In particular, I explore how a cohort of undocumented Mexican immigrants cultivates a social identity as “hard workers” to promote their labor and bolster dignity and self-esteem. Much of the existing literature on unauthorized labor migration has focused on the structural conditions that encumber immigrants and constrain their opportunities. By shifting the focus to workers’ agency, I seek to complement these analyses and show how undocumented immigrants actively navigate the terrain of work and society in the United States.