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How Latino undocumented families deal with the threat of deportation

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In the unending debate over “illegal immigration” in the United States, the cliché that is frequently heard is there are an estimated eleven million people in the county who are “living in the shadows.”

But what does that actually mean? The implication is that these are people who hide from the light and avoid being seen at almost any cost. But is that true? And who does this cliché serve? Because those same people who have come to make a life in the U.S. will say they are living out in the open, working honest jobs, sending their children to school, paying their fair share of taxes and asking for a chance to prove they have what it takes to become good American citizens.

As they are living their lives under the watchful gaze of the growing web of surveillance in the U.S., they are also aware of their tenuous status and potential for deportation. Their societal presence is under constant threat.

The book “Engage and Evade” examines how undocumented immigrants navigate complex dynamics of surveillance and punishment, providing a portrait of fear and hope in the margins.

The author Asad L. Asad explains how and why these immigrants engage with various institutions—for example, by registering with the IRS or enrolling their kids in public health insurance programs—that the government can use to monitor them. This institutional surveillance feels both necessary and coercive, with undocumented immigrants worrying that evasion will give the government cause to deport them. Even so, they hope their record of engagement will one day help them prove to immigration officials that they deserve societal membership. Asad uncovers how these efforts do not always meet immigration officials’ high expectations, and how surveillance is as much about the threat of exclusion as the promise of inclusion.


Asad L Asad is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stanford University and a faculty affiliate at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. His scholarly interests encompass social stratification; race, ethnicity, and immigration; surveillance and social control; and health. Asad's current research agenda considers how institutional categories—in particular, legal status—matter for multiple forms of inequality.

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*This interview will be recorded on Tuesday, May 16.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi