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“Awakening to a Nightmare”

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Does the undocumented status of 1.5-generation Latinos (those who migrated at a young age) in the United States affect their political, civic, and public selves? Our approach to this question begins with a theoretical framework based on the concept of abjectivity, which draws together abject status and subjectivity. We argue that the practices of the biopolitics of citizenship and governmentality-surveillance, immigration documents, employment forms, birth certificates, tax forms, drivers' licenses, credit card applications, bank accounts, medical insurance, car insurance, random detentions, and deportations-enclose, penetrate, define, limit, and frustrate the lives of undocumented 1.5-generation Latino immigrants. We examine data from a random-sample telephone survey of 805 Latinos and 396 whites in Orange County, California, to provide general patterns that distinguish 1.5-generation Latino immigrants from their first-generation counterparts and to suggest the contours of their lives as undocumented immigrants. We then examine in-depth interviews with 80 respondents also in Orange County who provide extensive qualitative information and personal narratives. The analysis shows how abjectivity and illegality constrain daily life, create internalized fears, in some ways immobilize their victims, and in other ways motivate them to engage politically to resist the dire conditions of their lives. © 2012 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

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