Legality, Survival, and Action: Immigrant and Refugee Organizing in the Pacific Northwest

Date of Award


Author Requested Restriction

Open Access (no embargo, no restriction)

Work Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Interdisciplinary Studies (MA)


Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Emily N Ignacio

Second Advisor

Charles Williams


Immigrants and refugees must negotiate dignity and human rights, which have been diminished through colonialism, world poverty and exclusion from United States citizenship. By extension, they cannot gain full substantive rights under national law and experience labor coercion. Lived experiences within a global economy are further molded by a complex and often inadequate system of legal categorization. Yet, the lived experiences of immigrant and refugee community organizers in the United States have yet to be thoroughly examined. Analyses of immigrants' and refugees' collective action provide a poignant illustration of individual perspective on community empowerment that can be achieved through grassroots organizing in the U.S. This ethnography examines the lives of immigrant and refugee leaders who work towards advancing immigrant rights. I argue that these life narratives broaden our understanding of community action within the context of specific identities. These identities necessarily complicate the legal and non-legal binary. That is, the strength of the community lay in immigrant and refugee individual's ability to comprehend, integrate, and articulate the complex interrelationship between macro-processes (such as neo-liberal economic policies) and the local community's unique history and needs. Much of the literature on these communities focus on the Southwest, Midwest, and the Northeast. Because of this, I chose to focus on the individual immigration stories and the community organizing experiences of key leaders in the Pacific Northwest of Washington State. My analysis comes from field observations and from in-depth interviews with six key immigrant and refugee community leaders. These narratives, interestingly, point to the different identities these individuals embrace and articulate - in retrospect (i.e., before and after crossing the border); when they face institutional barriers as non-citizen residents of the U.S. and as community organizers.