Engage and Evade

Almost 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Even as hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants are deported each year, most are not. The typical undocumented immigrant instead has spent over a decade in this country, carving out a life for themselves and their family amidst a growing web of surveillance that threatens their societal presence. Engage and Evade examines how undocumented immigrants manage contemporary dynamics of surveillance and punishment, offering a complex portrait of fear and hope.

Sociologist Asad L. Asad uses in-depth ethnographic and interview data, as well as statistical analyses of national data, to show how and why undocumented immigrants worried about deportation nonetheless engage with institutions whose records the government can use to monitor them. The answer lies in the multiple, and sometimes conflicting, demands that characterize these individuals’ daily lives. In the short term, they selectively engage with the various institutions that they recognize as necessary for making it through each day. This engagement is sometimes fraught, such as when undocumented immigrants take care to pay for traffic citations following a police stop or when a social worker checks in on their children’s welfare. And, sometimes, this engagement is mundane, such as when undocumented immigrants apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service. In the long term, they hope that the records of this engagement will help them prove to immigration officials that they deserve societal membership. But, when it comes time to submit these records, immigration officials making consequential decisions about legalization or deportation do not always find these records to be useful. These dynamics reveal how surveillance is as much about the threat of exclusion as the promise of inclusion.

Engage and Evade draws needed attention to the inequalities inherent in everyday forms of surveillance, with fraught consequences for undocumented immigrants and families, and describes the wide-ranging reforms needed to address them.

Available for purchase here (link forthcoming).

Listen to a podcast interview on the book here (part 1) and here (part 2).