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The Paradox of Contemporary Immigrant Political Mobilization: Organized Labor, Undocumented Migrants, and Electoral Participation in Los Angeles



This article illuminates a paradox in the contemporary political mobilization of new Americans. While labor unions are taking an increasingly active role in the successful mobilization of foreign-born residents in electoral politics, a substantial number of these newly mobilized Americans are undocumented migrants and residents, and thus are members of a growing and permanently disenfranchised working class. While this marginalized labor force benefits capital, an expanding long-term, non-citizen population presents a serious challenge to democratic politics. In this article, I discuss a case study which demonstrates both sides of this paradox. Facilitated by broader Latino political mobilization, their membership in progressive labor unions, and labor's shifting political strategy, many undocumented residents of Los Angeles are participating in candidate endorsements, campaign rallies, and “get out the vote” efforts, even though they are unable to vote on election day. Their actions portend future reconfigurations of the boundaries which surround citizenship and suffrage.