Low-Skilled Migrants and the Historical Reproduction of Immigration Injustice

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Low-skilled migrants in wealthy receiving states are routinely subordinated across a range of social contexts. There is a rich philosophical literature on the inferiorizing effects of “crimmigration”—that is, the growing criminalization of unauthorized migrants and the state’s use of uniquely harsh law enforcement methods against them. Yet there is less interest in the existing racialized division of migrant labor. Low-skilled Latino/a/x migrants disproportionately perform “dirty” and “difficult” work that citizens do not wish to perform. Theoretically, this division of labor is compatible with a more permissive immigration system that legally admitted far larger numbers of low-skilled migrants to continue “doing the dirty work.” Indeed, many have assumed the desirability of such a system. Against this, I argue that “crimmigration” and the racialized division of migrant labor cannot be conceptually disentangled. Rather, they are mutually constitutive in reproducing background conditions that constrain the social equality of low-skilled migrants, as well as others perceived to be such. “Crimmigration” has not only excluded migrants, but enabled states to include them on socially unequal terms: as an instrumental and fungible source of cheap labor. Drawing on Alasia Nuti’s (2019) valuable observation that “banal” historical mechanisms like stereotypes and social scripts can play a crucial role in maintaining present-day injustice, I show that stereotypes of migrants as workers in low-skilled occupations, as well as the expectation that they continue to take on those jobs, also profoundly undermine immigration justice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1229-1244
Number of pages16
JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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