[Excerpt] This book tells the stories of undocumented migrant workers, as well as the people they leave behind, using as an example people from the Alto Balsas region in the Mexican state of Guerrero. This part of Mexico is a good example to use because the proportion of migrants to the United States who are undocumented is very high, possibly over 90 percent. These migrant workers experience the inconsistencies of U.S. immigration policy; their stories illustrate how the economic integration of the North American continent, which at the same time restricts the movement of labor, is mirrored in people’s lives. Migrants from this part of Mexico started working en masse as undocumented laborers only about fifteen years ago. Hence their experiences better illustrate these contradictions than the stories of those who emigrated before 1990. The workers described in this book are also representative of a recent trend in migration from the southern half of Mexico, where many people speak an indigenous language as their mother tongue.
Many books have been written about Mexican undocumented workers. Some writers emphasize the negative aspects of illegal migration by showing how such migrants are likely to be abused, and how they have few rights. Shannon Gleeson, who did research on immigrants’ rights, focuses on the vulnerability of undocumented workers. She used the expression “those who work in the shadows.” Others show the positive side by portraying migrants as resourceful agents, rather than passive victims. Judith Heilman points out that the women she interviewed enjoyed a new freedom from restrictive gender roles, while men learned new skills. Scholars and journalists have shown that these contrasting sides of migration are part of a single process of economic integration. The purpose of this book is not to replicate the studies that already exist. Rather, I will show how the contradictory nature of continental economic integration is reflected in the conflicted feelings and ambiguous situations of undocumented workers and those they leave behind.