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Coercion and Contract at the Margins: Deportable Labor and the Laws of Employment Termination Under US Capitalism (1942–2015)

  • Gabrielle E. Clark

Abstract

In 1917, Congress created the status of temporary labor migrant. A new kind of restricted worker born from nineteenth-century free labor politics, employer and citizen worker demands under modern liberal capitalism, and state labor market regulation, temporary migrants have always had an employer-dependent legal status and been subject to deportation. Yet, since 1942, changing rights and legal processes have governed migrant employment termination across sectors. By drawing on employment cases from archival and unpublished files made available to me under FOIA, and court decisions, I compare the impact of laws of employment termination on deportable laborers beginning in 1942, when government agencies planned migration, and under privatized migration after 1964. From agriculture and war to today's service and knowledge economies, I demonstrate how employment rights have always shaped deportable workers' legal status. Yet, I also show how today's rights and legal processes, in contrast to the past, hardly mitigate employer control over migrants under contemporary capitalism.

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