Migration and Captive Labor in the Pandemic South


ACLS Fellowship Program


This project brings Tristan’s doctoral dissertation research on the making and unmaking of class relationships among diverse Black, white, mestizo, and indigenous workers on rural Tennessee plantations into conversation with three years of follow-up research conducted in 2019-2021 on the trend toward semi-waged captivity in workplaces and prisons downriver in the Lower Mississippi Valley / Upper Louisiana Delta during the leadup to and amid the 2019 Mississippi immigration raid and the COVID-19 pandemic. This project draws on rich ethnographic data collected from six migrant worksites in the Mid- and Deep South through both traditional participant observation and through community-based research in the midst of local migrant organizing efforts. It also draws from extensive ethnographic research in ‘sending’ and ‘transit’ communities in Guatemala and Mexico where Mesoamerican migrants are being displaced by capital-intensive megaprojects and ongoing land struggles, which North American governments are attempting to contain through a multilateral framework of ‘prevention’ and ‘orderly migration’ which can better be understood as a ‘captive refuge’ deportation regime intended to unmake class relationships and render displaced people as exploitable at a regional scale.