Central american immigrant workers: How legal status shapes the labor market experience

Cecilia Menjívar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose - This chapter examines the lives of Central American immigrant workers, with a focus on the paramount position of legal status in immigrants' lives. Findings - The legal context into which Central American immigrant workers arrive creates the various legal statuses they hold, which in turn dictate the kind of jobs they can obtain, where they live and, in general, shape their prospects in the United States. Although many Central Americans have held various forms of temporary protection from deportation, such relief is temporary and therefore subject to multiple extensions, applications, forms, and renewals, which serve to accentuate these immigrants' legal uncertainty. Given their legal predicament and the consequent truncated paths to mobility, many Central American immigrant workers live in poverty; indeed, they are more likely to live in poverty than other foreign born. At the same time, they have high labor force participation rates. Their high rates of poverty coupled with high labor force participation rates indicate that their jobs do not pay much. In spite of these circumstances, they remit a significant portion of their earnings to their non-migrating family members in the origin countries. Practical implications - The largely unchanged occupational and sectorial concentrations of Central Americans in the U.S. economy over the last two decades underscores the critical implications of legal status for immigrant incorporation and socioeconomic mobility. Originality/value - This chapter exposes the vulnerabilities imposed by a precarious legal status and highlights the importance of more secure legal statuses for immigrant workers' potential integration and paths to mobility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-28
Number of pages26
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Work
StatePublished - 2015


  • Central American
  • Immigrant workers
  • Legal status
  • Remittances
  • Temporary legal status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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