Skip to main content Accessibility help

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

  • Gabrielle E. Clark


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 By drawing on employment cases from archival and unpublished files made available to me under FOIA, and court decisions, I compare the impact of laws of employment termination on deportable laborers beginning in 1942,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.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

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

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

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

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

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



Hide All
Abrego, Leisy, and Lakhani, Sarah M. 2015. Incomplete Inclusion: Legal Violence Against Immigrants in In-Between Statuses. Law & Policy 37 (4): 265–93.
Amin, Ash. 1995. Post-Fordism: A Reader. New York: Wiley Blackwell.
Anderson, Bridget. 2010. Migration, Immigration Controls, and the Fashioning of Precarious Workers. Work, Employment and Society 24 (2): 300–17.
Batzell, Rudi. 2014. Free Labour, Capitalism and the Anti-Slavery Origins of Chinese Exclusion in California in the 1870s. Past and Present 225 (1): 143–86.
Bird, Robert C., and Smythe, Donald J. 2008. The Structure of American Legal Institutions and the Diffusion of Wrongful-Discharge Laws, 1978–99. Law & Society Review 42 (4): 833–64.
Breen, William. 1997. Labor Market Politics and the Great War: The Department of Labor, the States, and the First US Employment Service 1907–1933. Kent, OH: Kent University Press.
Briggs, Vernon. 1983. Non-Immigrant Labor Policy in the United States. Journal of Economic Issues 17:609–30.
Calavita, Kitty. 1984. U.S. Immigration Law and the Control of Labor: 1820–1924. London: Academic Press, Inc.
Calavita, Kitty. 1992. Inside the State: The “Bracero” Program, Immigration, and the I.N.S. New York: Routledge Books.
Chin, Rita. 2009. The Guestworker Question in Postwar Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Clark, Gabrielle. 2015. “Humbug” or “Human Good”? E. P. Thompson, the Rule of Law, and Labor from The Making to Neoliberal American Capitalism. Journal of Social History 48 (4): 759–88.
Collomp, Catherine. 1999. Immigration, Labor Markets, and the State, a Comparative Approach: France and the United States, 1880–1930. Journal of American History 86 (1): 4166.
Driscoll de Alvarado, Barbara. 2003. The 10% Solution: Bracero Program Savings' Account Controversy. ReVista Harvard Review of Latin America. (accessed July 1, 2015).
Estreicher, Samuel, and Lester, Gillian. 2007. Employment Law Stories. New York: Foundation Press.
Farmworker Justice. 2006. No Way to Treat a Guest: How the H-2A Agricultural Program Fails US and Foreign Workers. (accessed July 10, 2015).
Feinman, Jay M. 1976. The Development of the Employment at Will Rule. American Journal of Legal History 26:118–35.
Fisk, Catherine, and Wishnie, Michael. 2005. The Story of Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB: Labor Rights Without Remedies for Undocumented Immigrants. In Labor Law Stories, ed. Cooper, L. and Fisk, C. New York: Foundation Press.
Foner, Eric. 1994. The Meaning of Freedom in the Era of Emancipation. Journal of American History 81 (2): 435–60.
Forbath, William. 1989. Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Government Accountability Office (GAO). 2015. H-2A and H-2B Visa Programs Increased Protections Needed for Foreign Workers. (accessed July 13, 2015).
Griffith, David. 2006. American Guestworkers: Jamaican and Mexicans in the Labor Market. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Hahamovitch Cindy. 2012. No Man's Land: Jamaican Workers and the Global History of Deportable Labor. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hanieh, Adam. 2011. Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Holley, Michael. 2001. Disadvantaged by Design: How the Law Inhibits Agricultural Guest Workers from Enforcing Their Rights. Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal 18:573621.
Jessop, Bob. 2007. State Power. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.
Kanstroom, Daniel. 2007. Deportation Nation: Outsiders in American History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kawar, Leila. 2015. Contesting Immigration Policy in Court: Legal Activism and its Radiating Effects in the United States and France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lakhani, Sarah M. 2013. Producing Immigrant Victims' “Right” to Legal Status and the Management of Legal Uncertainty. Law & Social Inquiry 38 (2): 442–73.
Lewis, Mary Dewhurst. 2006. The Boundaries of the Republic: Migrant Rights and the Limits of Universalism in France, 1918–1940. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Menz, Georg. 2009. The Political Economy of Managed Migration. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Moberly, Richard. 2007. Unfulfilled Expectations: An Empirical Analysis of Why Sarbones-Oxley Whistleblowers Rarely Win. William and Mary Law Review 49 (1): 65155.
Montgomery, David. 1993. Citizen Worker: The Experience of Workers in the United States with Democracy and the Free Market. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ness, Immanuel. 2012. Guestworkers and Resistance to US Corporate Despotism. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Northrup, David. 1995. Indentured Labor in the Age of Imperialism 1834–1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Orren, Karen. 1991. Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law, and Liberal Development in the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pound, Roscoe. 1910. Law in Books and Law in Action. American Law Review 44:1236.
Raghunath, Raja. 2009. A Promise the Nation Cannot Keep: What Prevents the Application of the Thirteenth Amendment in Prison? William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 18 (2): 395444.
Scruggs, Otey M. 1960. Evolution of the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement of 1942. Agricultural History 34:140–49.
Semler, H. Michael. 1983. Overview: The H-2 Program. Aliens in the Orchard: The Admission of Foreign Contract Laborers for Temporary Work in US Agriculture. Tale Law & Policy Review 1 (2): 187239.
Senate Judiciary Committee Report 1515. 1950. A Resolution to Make an Investigation into the Immigration Systems. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Stanley, Amy Dru. 1992. Beggars Can't Be Choosers: Compulsion and Contract in Post-Bellum America. Journal of American History 78 (4): 1265–93.
Steinfeld, J. Robert. 1991. The Invention of Free Labor: The Employment Relation in English and American Law and Culture,1350–1870. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Steinfeld, J. Robert. 2000. Changing Legal Conceptions of Free Labor. In Terms of Labor: Slavery, Serfdom, and Free Labor, ed. Engerman, Stanley L., 137–67. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Stumpf, Juliet. 2006. The Crimmigration Crisis: Immigrants, Crime, and Sovereign Power. American University Law Review 56 (2): 367419.
Tomlins, Christopher. 2010. Freedom Bound: Labor, Law, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 2013. Characteristics of H1B Specialty Occupation Workers. (accessed July 1, 2015).
Vorenberg, Michael. 2001. Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Adair v. United States. 208 U.S. 161 (1908).
Alphonso Myers v. Dutton Berry Farm, WL 4959622. Vt. Super (2006).
Franco Favela v. Wester, 153 N.C. App. 811 (2002).
Jimenez v. GLK Foods Inc., Decision and Orders Granting Motions for Class Certification, Case No. 12-C-209 E.D. Wis. (Jun 04, 2014).
Morgan v. United States, 304 U.S. 1 (1938)
Nieto-Santos v. Fletcher Farms, 743 F.2d 638 (1984).
Rowe v. Grapevine, 527 S.E.2d 814 (1999).
Shah v. Wilco Sys., F.Supp.2d (2000).
Sugar Cane Growers of Fla. Co-Op. Inc v. Pinnock, 735 So. 2d 530 (1999).
Van Heerden v. Total Petroleum, Inc., 942 F. Supp. 468 (1996).
The Immigration Act of 1917, Pub. L. 301, 64th Congress; February 5, 1917.
The Immigration Act of 1990, Pub. L. 101-649, 101st Congress; November 29, 1990.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 Pub. L. 82-414, 82nd Congress; June 27, 1952.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), Pub. L. 99-603, 99th Congress; November 6, 1986.
The West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act, W. Va. Code § 21-5-4.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed