For the past two decades, women have been migrating from Mexico to the United States on temporary work visas to pick meat from blue crabs in small coastal factories. Within a theoretical framework that argues for the relevance of a moral economic perspective to gendered migration, we examine the how participating in this migration influences migrants' families, including their abilities to produce higher-quality lives. Specifically, we focus on the various factors that feed into the decision to migrate, the immediate consequences of those decisions for the relations among migrants, children, spouses and other family and community members, and the longer-term consequences in terms of gender relations, the restructuring of parent–child relationships and the material benefits of work abroad. We find that women negotiate a variety of contradictions and paradoxes to participate in the programme, many of which directly influence their quest to reaffirm their abilities, as mothers, to produce quality human beings. These findings reflect more general global appeals for valuing human life by measures other than those of conventional political economy.