Abstract In recent decades, migration scholars have challenged reified categories of ‘illegal’ migrants and observed migrant ‘illegalization’ and deportability as exploitative sociopolitical processes. Yet, in the move away from studying ‘undocumented migrants’ as distinct epistemic subjects, we argue that scholars have lost sight of migrants as agents. Consequently, migrant lives are explained in terms of social determinants rather than migrants’ intentional acts or cultural meaning systems. This paper shows how a cultural psychological study of migrant ‘illegality’ can help restore focus on the migrant as situated agent without reifying or legitimizing categories of migrant ‘illegality.’ To this end, we discuss ethnographic research conducted with Polish ‘irregular’ migrants living in Toronto and Mississauga in Canada. From a cultural psychological perspective, we examine how these migrants understood and navigated their unique status-related challenges to build meaningful lives in contradictory and precarious conditions. Our research reveals how Polish migrants learn to become ‘irregular’ as they develop common modes of being suitable for navigating the underground of Canada’s Polish Canadian enclave. Importantly, becoming ‘irregular’ is neither a passive nor unilaterally imposed process but involves discernible psychosocial dynamics characterized by recurrent threats and fears as well as migrants’ deliberate attempts to address and overcome these. We discuss these dynamics as cycles of deportability to mark their cyclical and recurrent nature and argue that they are central for the development of migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability. We conclude by considering the implications of our findings for understanding agency in the context of migrant ‘illegalization.’ 1. Introduction In recent decades, the visible rise of undocumented migration worldwide has motivated an international social scientific literature focused on the social formation of the issue as well as its adverse and exploitative effects on migrant lives. It has by now been widely documented that migrants who live with unauthorized status build their lives and raise their children in the shadows society, working precarious and undesirable jobs with limited access to healthcare, social services, and legal rights (De Genova and Peutz 2010; Goldring et al. 2013; Menjívar and Kanstroom 2014). Observing the persistence of these unequal circumstances, migration scholars have moved away from treating undocumented migration as a ‘problem to be solved’ (e.g. with more immigration restrictions) to trace instead how changing social and legal contexts function effectively to ‘illegalize’ growing numbers of persons and turn them into vulnerable and ‘deportable’ subjects who as such are vulnerable to exploitation. De Genova (2002) defines migrant ‘illegalization’ as the ‘legal production of migrant “illegality”’ (429), which is generated not only through laws but also the acts of diverse state and non-state agents (e.g. employers, administrators, law enforcers, as well as migrants themselves) all of whom draw upon the law to generate diverse conditions of migrant ‘illegality.’ A central aim for De Genova and other scholars (Coutin 2003; Chavez 2013; Menjívar and Kanstroom 2014; Ngai 2014) is to avoid reifying categories of ‘illegality’ by studying not ‘undocumented migrants’ but migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability as they are socially generated. In line with these scholars, we leave the term ‘illegal’ in quotes to emphasize the sociopolitical formation of migrant ‘illegality.’ A problem that arises is that in the move away from studying undocumented migrants as distinct epistemic subjects, scholarly discussions have given way to broader ideological debates and lost sight of migrants as agents. That is, in the interest of exposing the operations of exploitative ‘deportation regimes,’ researchers have tended to explain migrant lives with reference to social and political determinants and not in terms of the intentional acts, cultural meaning systems, or outlooks of migrants who actively interpret and navigate challenging immigration context (Bloch and Chimienti 2011; Ahmad 2013). Despite seeking to undermine dominant regimes in the interest of migrants, then, migrant interests themselves remain overlooked in the critical migration literature. This is a form of what Miranda Fricker (2007) might call hermeneutical injustice, which occurs ‘when a gap in collective interpretive resources puts someone at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to making sense of their social experiences.’ In addition, there are now multiple studies of migrant resistance, which deliberately trace and seek to expose migrants’ capacities for challenging and undermining dominant political regimes (Nyers 2010; Nicholls 2013). Rancière (2004), Balibar (2004), and others (e.g. Papadopoulos, Stephenson and Tsianos 2008; Hardt and Negri 2009; Isin 2009) treat undocumented migrants as ‘agents of social change’ whose collective actions hold the potential to undermine and even overcome global capital (Hardt and Negri 2009). These accounts theorize migrants vis-à-vis the state and broader politics of citizenship, important features of the migrant’s trajectory as migrants, but they do not address migrants’ firsthand understandings and systems of meaning. We argue that migrant aims and perspectives form crucial features or precursors of global politics, economic circumstances, institutional contexts, social networks or other social factors that are treated as the motives for migrant actions (rather than migrant outlooks, hopes and aspirations, desires, concerns, and/or other personal dispositions; Ahmad, 2013). Hence our approach compliments the broader socio-cultural and political frameworks that dominate studies and work on migrants. In this paper, we introduce a cultural psychological approach to the study of migrant ‘illegalization’ in order to examine the condition of migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability from the perspective of migrants. The aim of cultural psychology is to examine the sociocultural development of subjective life, including the diversity of human experience and its unique processes of formation (Shweder 1991; Valsiner 2007, 2009). From this view, we study how migrants develop unique modes of being through their engagements with others in particular social, historical and political circumstances. Some social scientists have similarly sought to resolve the double binds of top-down and bottom-up explanations by focusing their research on migrant agency (Richmond 1994; Anderson and Ruhs 2010; Koser 2010; Bloch and Chimienti 2011). From here empirical studies have traced both the constraining circumstances within which migrants live and the ways migrants employ various survival strategies to meet their divergent migratory aims (e.g. Chimienti and Achermann 2007; Bloch et al. 2011). While we too are interested in migrant agency and decision-making, we argue that thick descriptions (Geertz 1973) of embodied action and personhood are needed to help us situate migrants’ strategizing practices within the realm of personal meanings that render them comprehensible. Our work aligns most closely with the critical phenomenological framework outlined by Willen (2007) as well as other researchers who in correspondent ways have traced the experiential impact of the condition of migrant ‘illegality’ (Abrego 2011, 2014; Gonzales 2011, 2016; Gonzales and Chavez 2012; Hondagneu-Sotelo and Ruiz 2013; Dreby 2014). Whereas De Genova (2002) defines ‘deportability’ as the ‘palpable sociopolitical condition’ generated through migrant ‘illegalization,’ Willen (2007), as well as Gonzales and Chavez (2012) who draw upon her work, use the term ‘abjectivity’ to critically conceptualize the existential mode of being generated through migrant ‘illegality.’ More specifically, Willen (2007) argues that the condition of migrant ‘illegality’ operates as ‘the catalyst for particular forms of abjectivity’ (11) and calls for ethnographic studies to examine ‘the impact of “illegality” on migrants’ every-day, embodied experiences of being-in-the-world’ (10). Over the last decade, ethnographic research on migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability has burgeoned internationally, exposing notable similarities in the experiences of undocumented migrants as well as important differences that can vary for different migrant households, groups, and communities living in unique legal and sociopolitical contexts (cf. De Genova and Peutz 2010). Despite the unmistakably rich and vivid experiences described in the ethnographic literature, however, we lack theoretical understandings of how these social circumstances develop into unique conditions of ‘illegality’ and of the role of migrants in this process. Put differently, we know very little about the psychosocial processes through which migrant ‘illegality’ actually ‘catalyzes’ migrants' experiences. We argue that psychological theory is needed to intervene between the social processes of ‘illegalization’ and the adverse experiential effects documented in the literature. Without such theory, researchers tend to move seamlessly between descriptions of social contexts and descriptions migrant experiences without theorizing how migrants—as socially situated, goal-oriented agents—actually take part and variably contribute to the formation of their life conditions. As a result, even within the rich ethnographic research context, the experiences of migrants risk being reduced to the effects of broader sociopolitical processes. In this paper, we take a cultural psychological perspective to the study the everyday lives of Polish ‘irregular’ migrants living and working in Toronto and Mississauga in Canada. In so doing, we examine not the ways social contexts impact migrants’ lives but the ways migrants as socially situated agents navigate their unique status-related challenges to build meaningful lives in these settings. From this view, our research reveals how Polish migrants in Toronto and Mississauga learn to become ‘illegal’ as they develop common modes of being suitable for navigating the underground of Canada’s Polish Canadian enclave. Importantly, becoming ‘illegal’ is neither a passive or unilaterally imposed process but involves discernable dynamics characterized by recurrent threats and fears as well as migrants’ ongoing attempts to address and overcome these. We discuss these dynamics as cycles of deportability to mark their cyclical and recurrent nature and argue that they are central for the development of migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for understanding agency in the context of migrant ‘illegalization.’ 2. Cultural psychology As a discipline, cultural psychology is a member of a broader stream of sociocultural research in psychology that deliberately opposes individualistic divisions between minds and societies or selves and others and instead relies on social epistemologies to observe how human life gains form with others in particular social, cultural, and political contexts (Kirschner and Martin 2010). What distinguishes cultural psychologists from other sociocultural psychologists is the former’s deliberate interest in the diversity of subjective experience and more specifically, the ways human experience is shaped both by social and historical circumstances and the acts of agents who regularly transcend these to pursue their aims (cf. Valsiner 2012). Since the resurgence of cultural psychology in the 1980s, diverse epistemological and methodological approaches have been articulated for studying the co-constitution of minds and cultures, leading to an intellectually rich research field (Ellis and Stam 2015). Our perspective in turn relies on two major approaches within the field. First, in line with Shweder’s (1991, 2000) vision for the discipline, we take ‘mentalities’ or ‘ways of life’ as our central unit for research analysis. These include migrants’ ‘emotional and somatic functioning, self-organization, moral evaluation, social cognition and human development’ (Shweder 2000). Shweder (2000) differentiates the study of ‘mind’ from the study of ‘mentalities’ to oppose what he describes as the ‘prevailing Platonism’ in general psychology, which aims to abstract universal cognitive process from studies of historically and socially situated persons. In contrast, cultural psychologists seek to document the diversity of human experiences to better understand the choices, behaviors, and perspectives of actual persons and groups. To this end, cultural psychologists document the ‘goals, values and pictures of the world’ (214) adopted by particular social agents in order to expose how their behaviors and decisions are meaningfully organized from the perspectives of the persons who enact them. The major goal is to refrain from explaining human experience and development through external causes, functions, or purposes, and instead uncover the organizing principles that motivate actions and thought patterns of persons or groups examined (Shweder 2000). Second, we adopt a genetic cultural psychological approach that views culture not as an already formed system of meanings but as the ongoing accomplishment of autonomous agents engaged in meaning-making through ‘consensually coordinated action’ (Baerveldt and Verheggen 1999; Voestermans and Verheggen 2013). In their reading of Vygotsky’s social theory of development, Baerveldt and Verheggen (1999) explain that children learn culturally patterned behaviors not by internalizing social norms but through ‘cultural training’ which involves repetitive engagements with parents and others who correct and adjust children behaviors to meet particular normative standards. Importantly, parents do not regulate or determine children’s actions as children’s engage with parents intentionally and in the process learn to develop their own ‘styles’ of being and social expression (Merleau-Ponty 1962). From a genetic cultural psychological perspective, socialization takes place as children actively adjust or ‘attune’ their bodily dispositions, gestures and eventually, their speech, in relation to their parents and in accordance with their parents’ social guidance (Voestermans and Verheggen 2013). With respect to intrapsychological processes, ‘child development and socialization move from cultural competence and skills to the skill of coordinating one’s own thinking’ (187) as children develop language and learn to fashion their internal dialogues using the languages of others (Baerveldt and Verheggen 1999). Importantly, the process of cultural ‘attunement’ does not end in childhood but continues throughout human development as persons engage with others in differing social contexts. Although each person perceives the world and engages with others according to their unique style of dispositions, through our engagements with others we also come to adjust our behaviors, gestures, and modes of thinking to ‘attune’ to the demands of differing social circumstances (Voestermans and Verheggen 2013). In this sense, genetic cultural psychologists presuppose the autonomous functioning of individuals whilst simultaneously recognizing the ways human thought and action can become culturally patterned given particular social and political determinants. The task for researchers is to trace how different persons and groups develop unique modes of being through consensually coordinated action in distinct social and historical settings (Baerveldt and Verheggen 1999). In what follows, we show how a cultural psychological framework can help us better understand the ways Polish migrants living in Canada develop conditions of ‘illegality’ as they navigate Canada’s underground. More specifically, by tracing the psychosocial development of migrant ‘illegality’, we reveal how Polish migrants become ‘illegal’ as they develop patterned modes of thinking, feeling, and relating to others to overcome common status-related concerns. We begin this discussion with a brief description of the context of migrant ‘illegalization’ in Canada after which we describe the study design and findings. 3. Migrant ‘illegalization’ in Canada In comparison to the United States and Europe, ‘illegal’ migration in Canada is a relatively new public concern that has gained scholarly attention only in the last decade. Given its geopolitical position, Canada has historically not experienced high numbers of unauthorized arrivals (Bou-Zeid 2009), with recent estimates ranging between 80,000 to 500,000 (Tilson 2009). Canadian immigration laws have also made no mention of ‘illegal’ migrants or any derivation of the term (e.g. irregular, unauthorized) throughout Canadian history, and it was not until June 2012 that Canadian lawmakers introduced the term ‘irregular arrivals’ to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to directly address their presence (Ellis 2015). Accordingly, we use the term ‘irregular’ from here on to refer to migrants who enter, reside, and/or work in Canada without state authorization to do so. In 1976, Canada incorporated humanitarian aims into its immigration laws by adopting and then expanding the UN refugee convention (Bou-Zeid 2009). Today the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (2001) accepts three classes of immigrants: independent migrants, family members, and refugees. Since the liberalization of Canadian immigration policy, Canada witnessed an upsurge of international migrants whose diverse backgrounds have transformed the country’s ethnic landscape and motivated new concerns about the changing nature of Canadian cultural identity. This became especially problematic when in the 1990s the numbers of refugees grew exponentially worldwide (Castles and Miller 2009). Canada’s immigration system was regularly challenged by significant backlogs, which then fueled not only negative conceptions about the genuineness of refugee claimants but the integrity of the immigration system more generally (Bou-Zeid 2009). In this context, governments advanced new concerns with border security, commencing the ‘securitization’ of immigration policy, which was already in place before the events of 9/11 (Pratt 2005). Recently, the previous Conservative government imposed greater demands on new immigrants, increasing requirements for language skills, implementing new mandatory credential assessments of foreign credentials, permanently terminating backlogged applications, and introducing ‘start-up’ visas to facilitate the recruitment of immigrants by selected corporations and employers (Friesen 2012). In the interim, the number of temporary workers has risen every year at an average increase of 15 per cent between 2003 and 2008; and by 2008, the number of non-permanent residents who entered Canada (399,523) began to exceed the number of immigrants who became permanent residents that year (247,243; Pang 2013).1 Observing these and other trends, Goldring, Berinstein and Bernhard (2009) argue that growing numbers of persons in Canada are living with ‘precarious statuses,’ which include both documented and undocumented forms of ‘illegality’ (De Genova 2002). That is, because the vast majority or ‘irregular’ migrants arrive in Canada with temporary permits (e.g. as tourists, temporary workers, or students) and subsequently work without authorization and/or overstay, most of them are actually known to the state but no longer have lawful status. Precarious status may involve (a) the lack of work authorization; (b) the lack of the right to remain permanently in Canada; (c) dependency on a third party for one’s right to be in Canada; and/or (d) the lack of access to social citizenship rights available to permanent residents. ‘Irregular’ migrants in Canada thus occupy varied forms of ‘illegality’ and often move ‘in and out of status’ due to changes in policies, complicated administrative requirements, as well as migrants’ own attempts to improve their situations (e.g. applying for asylum after arriving as a tourist; Goldring, Berinstein and Bernhard 2009). Yet, little is known about the lives of migrants who navigate these precarious contexts. So far empirical research has shown how ‘irregular’ migrants in Canada live, work, and raise their families in the shadows of society with limited access to healthcare (Magalhaes, Carrasco and Gastaldo 2010), social services (Bernhard et al. 2007), education (Sidhu 2007) and legal rights (Mardsen 2013). Further, with less-than-full status, ‘irregular‘ migrants work in low-skilled, low-paying jobs with limited job security and increased likelihood of exploitation (Raposo 1996; Basok, Bélanger and Rivas 2014). Finally, with indeterminate status in Canada and the possibility of deportation, ‘irregular’ migrants report experiencing persistent fears about apprehension and removal, which further dissuade them from accessing the few rights and services available to them (see Goldring et al. 2013 for a volume of recent studies). However, many questions remain unanswered about the everyday lives of ‘irregular’ migrants given both the recent emergence of this research and the strong reliance on interview and survey versus ethnographic data. Further ethnographic research is needed to unveil the complexity of migrants’ experiences and the unique conditions of migrant ‘illegality’ specific to the Canadian context (Willen 2007). To this end, the current study contributes a much-needed investigation of ‘irregular’ life in Canada and the ways ‘irregular’ migrants understand and navigate status-related challenges in Canadian settings. 4. Ethnography of Polish ‘irregular’ migrants in Canada 4.1 Polish migrants in Toronto and Mississauga This study originated with the first author’s longstanding involvement with the Polish Canadian communities in Toronto and Mississauga as a native Polish person who grew up in the area. Toronto and Mississauga are home to vibrant Polish Canadian enclaves that have been top destinations for new Polish immigrants since the 1980s (Pula and Jaroszynska-Kirchmann 2011). Toronto itself is home to more than 200,000 Poles (Statistics Canada 2009), many of whom in recent years have moved westward to span the Toronto–Mississauga border. To our knowledge, it is unknown how many Polish migrants live and/or work in these areas with ‘irregular’ status; however, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is not uncommon for Polish Canadian employers to hire such persons for low-skilled, temporary, and/or occasional jobs. Given her strong connections with Polish Canadian business owners and workers in the area, Ellis initiated recruitment for this study by drawing on her personal contacts and thereafter relied on snowball sampling.2 The data for this study was collected solely by Ellis in partial fulfillment of her doctoral degree requirements.3 Sixteen Polish women and men (Mage= 28.6 years; age range: 21–63 years) took part in long-term participatory observations and/or open-ended interviews. All participants took part in the study on a voluntary basis and provided verbal informed consent. As per the ethical requirements of this study, each participant was given a pseudonym and no personal information (e.g. home addresses, real names of work places) was documented during the course of this study. Additionally, ethical requirements prohibited Ellis from using any audio or video recording; for this reason, the quotes in this paper include both direct quotes and paraphrased statements noted by Ellis during the course of her interviews and ethnographic encounters. Direct quotes translated from Polish are marked with double quotations. All participants were Polish citizens who arrived legally in Canada between 2001 and 2014 on temporary permits, after which they either overstayed or were working without authorization. Ten participants arrived as tourists, five as temporary workers, and one participant could not recall. No participant entered Canada illegally because Polish citizens have since 2008 been permitted to travel to Canada for 6 months without a visa-permit so long as they meet document requirements and satisfy a Canadian Border Services Officer at the time of their arrival (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2008). Nearly all participants who arrived were between 18 and 34 years of age with the exception of two men who were aged between 44 and 50. Eleven participants were single when they arrived; five others were married and migrated either alone or with children. Fifteen had completed high school in Poland, two had incomplete university degrees, and two had completed postgraduate degrees. 4.2 Ethnographic methods and analysis This study involved two phases of participatory observation (Phase 1 from December 2012 to May 2013 and Phase 2 from October 2013 to July 2014) with interviews beginning at the end of the first phase. Whereas the participant observations involved spending time with participants during the course of their everyday lives (e.g. running errands, attending social events, taking care of children), the interviews provided more reflective knowledge about how participants understood their lives as ‘irregular migrants.’ Interviewees were asked to recount their arrival stories to Canada and answer a series of questions organized around common status-related issues, including employment, access to social services, and challenges in family and social life. The interviews lasted between 1.5 to 5.5 hours, but most were about 2 or 3 hours; all but one was conducted in Polish. Data from participatory observation and interview responses were first coded separately, after which major themes from both sets of data were compared to identify general themes across all data. From a cultural psychological perspective, thematic analyses focused on identifying commonalities in participants’ contexts and experiences, focusing on how participants understood, evaluated, and found ways to navigate challenges associated with their ‘irregular‘ status. While the data from participatory observations helped generate contextualized descriptions of participants’ experiences, as an amalgamation of reflections collected at varied points during the course of different migrants’ stay in Canada, the interviews helped disclose how participants’ experiences followed a distinct developmental structure. Not only did the interviewees make similar claims depending on where they were situated within their ‘irregular’ trajectory at the time of the interview, they also associated particular challenges, employment experiences, life lessons, successes and disappointments with different moments and contexts in their time in Canada. As a result, migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability turned out to be neither a single kind of experience nor even a group of experiences, but a common trajectory of experiences with a distinguishable beginning, middle, and end. The results of this study are therefore organized in a temporal format that reflects these migrants’ trajectories into ‘irregular’ life. 4.3 The psychosocial development of migrant ‘illegality’ 4.3.1 Migrating (legally) to Canada A mixture of situational factors and personal considerations contributed to participants’ decisions to migrate to Canada. While all participants in this study described poor opportunities for living and dismal economic prospects as incentives for leaving Poland, for some, the journey was more exploratory than economic, and three women left to reunite with their husbands. Participants’ stories of departure also revealed how decisions to migrate were complicated, circumstantial, and open to possibilities rather than premeditated and intended for the long-term. Gawin, who left Poland at 23 years of age, said that he had always imagined his future in Poland and it was only when his career plans failed abruptly that he came to see a trip to Canada as an opportunity. Further, like most participants Gawin did not have a set plan to stay in Canada; rather, he wanted to explore his options based on the encouragement of a friend who was already living there. Most participants arrived as tourists anticipating turning their trips into working holidays; alternatively, they arrived with work permits intending to explore their options for longer periods. All arrived to family or friends already in Canada, confirming the significance of migrant networks (Castles and Miller 2009). Although neither Canada nor North American life were entirely foreign to participants given their access to the Internet and other media from Poland, reassurances from family members served as the final pull for choosing Canada over other destination countries. Firsthand experiences upon arrival collided with initial preconceptions, generating new outlooks and considerations. Generally speaking, participants compared Canada and Canadian culture favorably to Poland and Polish culture. As most arrived from small or mid-sized towns, the ‘big city’ of Toronto and the ‘American life’ that it entailed were seen as attractions. Canadians also exemplified an ease of living that made life in Poland appear dull and depressing. Most important, what made Canada universally superior to Poland were its higher purchasing power and the corresponding life opportunities that it entailed. As Monika, a 23-year-old woman, explained: At least here you see what you work for. In Poland you can work hard and still not have money to put away. Here it is possible. If you want to buy something, you can save up and get it. (Monika, 14 March 2013) For Monika as for all other participants, goods and services which were either not affordable or difficult to obtain in Poland suddenly appeared readily available. Additionally, seeing firsthand the higher living standards experienced by their hosts, most participants began to envision long-term possibilities for themselves in Canada, regardless of their original migratory aims. Desirable goods and services could be accessed through work in the Polish Canadian enclaves of Toronto and Mississauga. A diversity of Polish-owned businesses in these areas made it possible for participants to procure employment within days or weeks of their arrival regardless of whether they had work authorization; and most agreed that a major advantage of Canada over Poland was that there were jobs (versus no jobs). As Agata put it, ‘so long as you want to work, you can find work.’ Further, since many jobs were run by Polish owners and staffed by Polish workers, participants could interact with employers and employees without having to know very much English. At the same time, as tourists and/or temporary workers, Polish migrants could only access insecure, underpaid, unprotected, and/or self-employed jobs, which were further distributed according to gender. Most men worked for higher wages in construction and site labor, whereas women tended to work for less money in domestic work/childcare, cleaning services, and delis. As most participants never worked in low-skilled jobs in Poland, accepting such working conditions was difficult. Many participants vividly recalled unfavorable first job scenarios, marking the lasting impact these had on their feelings of self-worth and dignity, and revealing participants’ special vulnerability during the early period of their arrival. Although blatant exploitative circumstances were rare, all participants experienced more subtle forms of exploitation, ranging from disparaging remarks and excessive demands to being paid below minimum wage, having payments delayed, working in substandard conditions, or not being paid at all. Further, several participants felt dependent on their employer based on the latter’s promises to secure them work permits. Taken together, upon arrival our participants perceived a mixture of opportunities and challenges in Canada that motivated them to reconsider their plans and potentially extend their stay. Out of 16 participants only three were uninterested in permanent residence given their strong personal ties in other countries. However, legal options for extending their stay were limited for anyone looking to apply from within Canada, and returning to Poland to apply from there was considered too arduous, expensive, and/or time consuming, once participants had already made the trip. Seeking solutions before the expiration of their permits, most participants turned to legal agents and/or friends for advice. ‘Get married’ was by far the most common recommendation given by legal aid advisors and family members alike to single participants. Others were advised to apply for college or university, but as this required demonstrating financial resources and paying high international student fees, no participant considered this option seriously. A final option was to find an employer to sponsor migrants via one of several provincial nominee programs; but only three participants were able to find such an employer (and his promises turned out to be empty). Given these limitations, some participants applied to renew their tourist visas to remain legally present despite illegally working, while others gave up on such measures in the hopes of meeting Canadian suitors for marriage. Sooner or later, however, all participants had to make decisions about whether they would take their chances in Canada and invest their energies in ‘irregular’ situations. Doing so, they realized, would mean enduring precarious working conditions, limited social and health services, and living clandestinely for an unforeseeable amount of time. As Kayah explained, ‘this life is not for anyone.’ Her sister came to visit for a working holiday but according to Kayah, she was ‘too scared to stay.’ Accordingly, decisions to overstay were difficult, unsettling, and not for everyone. Most importantly, ‘irregular’ life was in no case meant to be long-term. Rather, all participants imagined it as a temporary stint—a ‘hiatus,’ as one man put it—and a delay in gratification for the promise of a better future. 4.3.2 Kombinowanie: Alternative form of agency As participants began earning steadier incomes, nearly all moved out from their original hosts’ homes and began building more independent social lives. Generally speaking these were positive experiences, as having their own space offered a sense of independence and accomplishment, as well as an opportunity to build new social lives at their own discretion. Since all participants remained within the Polish Canadian communities of Toronto and Mississauga, their social lives developed almost exclusively with Poles and in Polish. Indeed, the diversity of Polish organizations, cultural centers, churches, delis, banks, insurance companies, lawyers, doctors, and other services allowed Polish ‘irregular’ migrants to work and develop rich cultural lives without having to know very much English; whereas the opportunity to remain among Poles minimized the risk of being identified as unauthorized by Canadian authorities. Having good friends in similar situations was important, as such persons could understand participants’ predicaments, shared their concerns and frustrations, and provided both direct and indirect advice about the best courses of action for succeeding in precarious conditions. With friends participants compared their issues with bosses, legal aid workers, and customers at work; they received guidance and coordinates relevant for employment, visa applications, doctors, and other services; moreover, they heard about both horror and success stories of other ‘illegal’ migrants. Accordingly, through their engagements with others, the participants in this study developed new understandings, strategies, and perspectives necessary for successfully navigating their ‘irregular’ conditions—i.e. they learned what to do, what not to do, who to speak to, what to say, when to say it, and so on. Over time, these experiences contributed to the development of an alternative form of agency, which participants frequently subsumed in the concept of kombinowanie. Consider how Monika describes the creative approach she takes to address her healthcare concerns: ‘A stupid visit to the doctor’ is already a problem. She had a bladder infection and that cost her money; she tried first doing it on her own (using medication that she had brought from Poland), but that didn’t work out. She then realized that she had to go to a gynecologist but it would cost her $250 just for a preliminary consultation. So she ‘obtained a reference for a woman doctor who does everything [all the tests]’ and paid her the cost of a single visit. She says that ‘everything is doable, but you have to know how to do it and nobody will ever tell you how exactly.’ With respect to the doctor, she says, ‘it’s simple, you’ve got to find different ways for getting the same things done—you have to kombinować.’ Kombinować has no direct translation in English. Polish–English dictionaries have proposed verbs such as ‘to work on an angle’ (Kombinować n.d.-a) or ‘to contrive’ (Kombinować n.d.-b). Polish dictionaries in turn define kombinowanie as a practice of creative strategizing and problem solving, which may, but need not, involve the use of morally questionable or illegal means (Bisko 2014). Polish anthropologist Agata Bisko in turn describes kombinowanie as a central cultural practice and ‘integral part of Polish mentality’ (156; translated from Polish) that evolved during the communist era. Specifically, facing a scarcity of goods and services available through formal institutions, Polish citizens learned to rely on informal networks and illegal means to meet their basic needs. However, whereas kombinowanie historically constituted a necessary practice for the sake of simulating ‘a facade a normal existence’ (156; translated from Polish), Bisko argues that kombinowanie remains among contemporary Poles as a residual cultural disposition (e.g. to authorities, to challenging situations) rather than a necessary mode of survival required for daily living. In the quote above, however, Monika (re)establishes kombinowanie as a necessary form of agency required of Polish ‘irregular’ migrants to address the limitations posed by their lack of status. What for legal residents in Canada would comprise a minor task—a doctor’s visit—is experienced by ‘irregular’ migrants as a larger problem that costs money, implies risks of status disclosure, and consequently, requires creative strategizing. Monika begins her kombinowanie by finding alternative solutions to her health concern, first by drawing on her own resources—medications from Poland—and when that fails, she starts looking for alternatives. Learning that a single visit would be expensive, she asks around further, seeking more helpful knowledge, and eventually finds a doctor ‘who does everything’ for the same price. Notably, by subsuming this unusually elaborate effort into as a ‘simple’ practice that ‘you have to know how to do,’ Monika highlights the way kombinowanie is not a matter of applying abstract knowledge but developing a praxis based on resourcefulness and creative problem solving. Time and again participants spoke of having to kombinować not only to find healthcare but a better job, flexible childcare, better housing, trustworthy legal advice, help with English translations, and other necessities. Learning ‘how to do it’ in turn required learning to be resourceful when faced with status-related barriers, drawing upon social connections and informal knowledge rather than government institutions and services available to legal residents. Gawin served as a shining example of kombinowanie for employment, as he continually sought new friendships and social connections, drew on advice from reliable others, and enacted creative action plans to improve his work conditions. As a result, in the span of few years, he moved from working as a deli helper, to a construction aid, to a roofer, to an indoor construction worker, and finally, to a delivery truck driver, which granted him the highest pay and most consistent hours. Reflecting on his upward movements, Gawin explained that when he came to Canada he knew nothing about construction—he had ‘dwie lewe ręce [two left hands].’ To succeed without this knowledge, he maintained, he had to learn ‘jak kombinować [how to kombinować].’ (Gawin; 18 February 2013) As a mode of agency, the practice of kombinowanie exemplifies how ‘irregular’ migrants are not pawns of deportation regimes but intractable agents, capable of re-imagining and re-working their circumstances, viewing opportunities in limited circumstances, and seeing openings in objectively exclusionary conditions. In fact, so much was this the case that, in the early months of her ethnographic observations, Ellis was struck by how well adjusted her participants seemed to be to the Canadian context and how infrequently they seemed to concern themselves with their lack of status. Although it was clear that the lack of status limited participants’ work opportunities and access to social provisions (e.g. healthcare, education), it was not evident to Ellis that they actually experienced any fears of deportation. Seeking answers, Ellis asked her participants directly about their fears, to which they responded that they ‘did not experience fear on a daily basis,’ and it was only when status-related situations arose that they would think about their immigrant status. Seeing how such responses did not align with research literature reporting more persistent experiences fears, Ellis conducted a series of interviews during which she inquired systematically about respondents’ experiences of fear. The interviews were instrumental for the current project, as not only did they reveal how participants experienced both status-related fears and enduring fears, Ellis also noted that participants cited common adages and tactics to address their concerns (e.g. ‘you can’t let it get to you,’ ‘you have to think about the positive’ or ‘live day to day’). Returning to the ethnographic field with this knowledge, Ellis began to recognize not only how these types of fears and tactics came up in ‘real time’ during her participants’ daily lives, but also, and in so doing, she saw how these experiences were bound up with one another in repetitive and cyclical psychological dynamics. In what follows, we describe these dynamics as cycles of deportability and show how these constituted the developmental process behind ‘becoming irregular.’ 4.3.3 Becoming ‘irregular’: Cycles of deportability Even with general improvements in their social and economic situations, participants could not escape fearful situations that every so often would undermine their livelihood. Although immigration raids remain relatively infrequent in Canada and have historically focused on targeting visible minority groups (e.g. Chinese; Bou-Zeid 2009), everyone knew that virtually any social ‘slip-up’ could lead to their status disclosure and potential deportation. Moreover, while not everyone had equally frightening stories to tell, ‘close calls’ were universal experiences that alarmed participants and brought their vulnerable status into the purview of their imaginations. According to Agata, who was 23 years old and arrived to Canada four years earlier: Fear comes up unexpectedly. Sometimes you forget that you are here without papers. But there are moments when you are reminded. For example, when I go to the gym and scan my gym card, I think, ‘somebody out there knows where I am.’ (Agata; 17 March 2013) Virtually all participants in this study echoed Agata’s insights and agreed that it was primarily ‘when problems arose—especially health problems’ that participants were ‘reminded’ of their lack of status. Given how these moments constituted infrequent and unpredictable yet repetitive reminders of participants’ status, we refer to them as moments of acute deportability. In what follows, Władomir’s case typifies how experiences of such sudden threats not only urged participants to respond creatively—through kombinowanie—but as unforgettable experiences they generated other kinds of ‘lingering fears’ that pervaded their everyday existence. At the time he was 20 years old, renting a room with a Polish couple that he met via a newspaper advertisement: He had only been living there for two months when the couple accused him of stealing their computer and called the police. The police then came to his work during a time when he was operating heavy machinery. Władomir’s explains that he was petrified during the situation, ‘scared that they would deport him on the spot.’ He said all this in half sentences, implying the fear: ‘they could have really done something … ’ or ‘of course I was scared ’cause you know … ’ I was left to fill in the blanks with ‘like deportation?’ and ‘you could have been arrested?’ [respectively] to which he agreed…. Fortunately the policemen let him go without questioning his status. They asked if he stole the computer and he denied it. … In the end it turned out that [one of the housemates] drunkenly misplaced the computer in her closet. (Władomir’s; 15 April 2013) What started out as a wrong accusation made by two irresponsible roommates generated a host of circumstances that could have lead to Władomir being deported. In this brief encounter with the police, Władomir’s possible deportation became alive in his experience and his vulnerable condition was brought to the forefront of his imagination. This fearful state compelled him to seek creative alternatives for housing among his acquaintances (rather than strangers from newspaper advertisements), and eventually he found a room to rent with a co-worker whom he saw as more trustworthy. Importantly, as Władomir continued his life underground, this experience never left him—it was one of the first things he reported impromptu when he met the Ellis for their first conversation on ‘what it’s like to live with “irregular” status.’ And when she asked him how much does ‘being illegal’ remain on his mind, he responded that ‘[he thinks] about it often and in all kinds of contexts … even in a silly situation, like when you are coming home from the bar and you get pulled over by cops who ask you for ID.’ But he says (repeatedly and in reference to various threats), ‘you try not to let it get to you.’ (emphasis added) (Władomir; 15 April 2013). Władomir’s reiterated phrase is immensely revealing. It points to both the persistent vigilance required of him given the possibility of his deportation, which can follow from diverse, even routine situations, as well as the psychological work necessary to keep his fears and concerns in check so that he could continue living his life underground. Virtually all participants experienced similar psychosocial dynamics that over time led them to adopt similar self-disciplinary practices. These involved not only common modes of kombinowanie, but lingering fears of deportation, persistent feelings of precariousness, as well as continual self-disciplinary tactics intended to overcome these. As Janek, a 63-year-old man who spent 12 consecutive years in Canada, explained: Fearful thoughts are there all the time. They are not overwhelming, so you can go about your day … But everyone knows the ground they walk on, they can deport you at any moment. … Jest taki dreszczyk niepewności [there’s a lingering chill of uncertainty]. (emphasis added) (Janek; 18 April 2013) To manage such concerns, participants developed common self-disciplinary practices whereby they deliberately downplayed, ignored and rationalized their fears and sought to focus on their more immediate and practical concerns. Having been in Canada for over 10 years, Kamil explained that he ‘decided a long time ago not to concern himself too much with [his status]; that is never good for you—it brings heart attacks!’ Other participants shared similar advice: you have to ‘think about the positive’; ‘expect things to progress slowly, gradually’; ‘be careful not to dream too big’; ‘think practically’; or ‘you can’t be scared!’ Gawin’s experience with a health complication in turn provides a clear example of how such strategies originated as self-ascribed, embodied responses to status-related concerns. Gawin suffered from a genetic health condition that on one occasion produced such excruciating pain that he was left with no choice but to seek hospitalization. What was worse, the incident occurred on the day after his health insurance had expired, meaning that he would be subject to thousands of dollars of hospital costs (given the extensive treatment he required). Lying in his hospital bed a few days later, Gawin expressed mixed feelings about his new circumstances. On the one hand, he bemoaned his situation and stated repeatedly, ‘such is my life’ or ‘I guess this is how it was meant to be,’ citing genetic predispositions, his decision to migrate as a Polish person, and his failure to see to his insurance payments as causes for his situation. On the other hand, having reflected on his situation, Gawin explained that he had decided he would ‘approach his situation rationally,’ developing a repayment plan for his fees, locating and subscribing to the ‘best insurance plan possible’ and sticking to a new diet and exercise plan to get himself back into shape. Gawin’s case illustrates how participants developed new ways of speaking and disciplining themselves in response to status-related challenges. As a whole the hospital emergency comprised a moment of acute deportability that not only heightened Gawin’s fear at the time of its occurrence, but also, having led him to a costly hospitalization situation, left him acutely aware of his vulnerable position. Seeking to make sense of his situation, Gawin blamed not the immigration system or global politics but himself as the immigrant who made poor decisions and holds weak bodily dispositions. From here he concluded that what he needed was better planning and more self-discipline. Notably, statements such as ‘I guess this is how it was meant to be,’ or alternatively ‘whatever will be will be’ and ‘living from day to day’ were popular phrases among participants who also employed them as they reflected on their lives in precarious conditions. Gawin’s hospitalization incident in turn demonstrates how such statements resulted from ‘cultural trainings’ (Baerveldt and Verheggen 1999) in ‘illegal’ conditions, as participants experienced and responded to regularly occurring status-related threats. Taken together, we argue that migrants ‘become illegal’ by adopting common modes of being in response to cyclical and repeated encounters with status-related threats. From the perspectives of migrants, these threats operate as acute reminders of their vulnerable statuses—or moments of deportability—that not only summon migrants into action but also leave enduring fears that continue to linger during their everyday lives. To reckon with these, ‘irregular’ migrants adopt common coping and self-disciplinary strategies to downplay, ignore, and/or rationalize their concerns and deliberately concern themselves with the immediate demands of their situations. We summarize this developmental, psychosocial process with the concept of cycles of deportability to mark its recurrent and dynamic nature. 4.3.4 Long-term effects Our findings suggest that living with ‘irregular’ status is not sustainable over the long-term. At the end of this study, five out of 16 participants were forced to return to Poland following accidents at work, health complications, or deportation; and two women received permanent residency through spousal sponsorship. To our knowledge, all other participants remain in Canada, but with few options for regularization, their chances for long-term residency are doubtful and sooner or later, circumstances will force most of them to return to Poland (perhaps to migrate again). Having lived in Canada precariously for almost four years, Kayah noted: ‘Nobody gets better under these conditions.’ Our findings in turn corroborate how it generally was the case that with more time, more threats, more stress, and less prospects, participants grew weak, fatigued, and felt increasingly helpless. Older participants appeared especially worn down given their years of physical labor and impoverished lifestyles; whereas younger participants complained about how tired they were of their current lives, how much they could not stand their jobs, and how hard it was for them to live without the ability to make concrete future plans. Looking back on their trajectories in Canada, many interviewees claimed that they would have ‘done things differently’ had they known how difficult it would be to secure immigration papers—they would have arrived legally in the first place or have migrated elsewhere in Europe. Instead, they grew helpless as ‘irregular’ migrants, waiting continually to either meet a Canadian spouse or employer who would help them regularize their status. As these options seemed grim for many, participants grew discouraged, felt less hopeful about their lives, and with their energies depleted, found it increasingly difficult to justify their stay. What was it, then, that kept participants in these circumstances despite these negative appraisals? First, returning to Poland was economically unsound. Not only would it cost money to leave, returning to Poland’s lesser economic opportunities meant going back to the meager life that participants had originally escaped. No matter how one saw it, Canada’s greater purchasing power afforded better possibilities for living and even participants who were uninterested in permanent residency overstayed primarily to save money. It was not merely about finances however. Over time participants grew acclimatized to their lives in Canada, their daily routines carried comforts, and new friendships and acquaintances generated feelings of belonging despite both exclusionary circumstances and participants’ not necessarily having had long-term plans to stay. From a psychological perspective, friends in precarious circumstances were not mere means for procuring and exchanging knowledge. With friends participants could temporarily forget about their lack of status and the daily stresses it implied. Social situations were about telling jokes, playing music, drinking alcohol, reminiscing, sharing food, recipes, memories, and dreams. With others, then, participants formed alternative social spaces where they could collectively forget, reject, and resist their conditions (Papadopoulos, Stephenson and Tsianos 2008), and enjoy the Canadian ‘ease of life’ they had originally intended to achieve. Finally, and most importantly for our purposes, despite their gradual decline, participants’ hopes and dreams endured in the face of ongoing threats and uncertainties about the future. As Agata maintained: You come because you have a particular dream and expectations. You need to have patience and cannot forget why you came, constantly reminding yourself of this. You can’t think that this is hopeless but that somehow things will work out. (Agata; 17 March 2013) Agata’s comment is significant as it reveals explicitly how from the migrant’s perspective the entire trajectory of becoming ‘irregular’ gains its meaning not from broader sociopolitical conditions but from migrants’ hopes and aims to live better lives with others (Ricœur 1992). It is in this sense that, even in adopting self-disciplinary tactics that may objectively serve to keep migrants in deportable conditions, migrants never turn into passive recipients or pawns of deportation regimes. Put differently, because there is more to migrant ‘illegality’ than the exploitation of labor, the dynamics of ‘illegal’ existence cannot be explained by sociopolitical circumstances alone. Given the centrality of dreams and hopes for succeeding in deportable conditions, we argue that they constitute at once the psychological targets of deportability and conversely, modes for building resilience in deportable circumstances. In line with Agata’s comments above, new-comers dreaded and old-timers bemoaned losing track of their original aims, as this implied having allowed their dismal situations to ‘get to them’ and/or having become accustomed to the impoverished life afforded by ‘irregularity.’ Accordingly, whereas migrant ‘illegalization’ functions at the psychosocial level to generate passive workers who lose sight of their dreams, resilience in deportable conditions implies remaining hopeful despite growing fatigue, enervation, and repeated status-related threats. 5. Conclusion Our paper has sought to show how a cultural psychological study of migrant ‘illegality’ could help restore focus on the migrant in critical migration studies without reifying or legitimizing categories of migrant ‘illegality.’ From a cultural psychological perspective, we observed how Polish migrants arriving in Canada on temporary and tourist visas developed common patterns of thinking, feeling, and relating to others as they lost their status and began encountering similar social limitations and deportation threats. To the extent that recurrent barriers and threats helped generate common conditions of ‘illegality’ marked by ongoing fears of deportation, precariousness, and concerns about the future, our study confirms that migrant ‘illegalization’ leads to the formation of adverse psychological conditions that leave migrants vulnerable and exploitable as cheap laborers (De Genova 2002). A cultural psychological perspective in turn helps explain how patterned, ‘illegal’ modes of being develop not through the imposition of deportation regimes ‘from above,’ but through migrants’ active and goal-oriented engagements with others in challenging social settings. It was primarily by developing friendships, social connections and other informal resources that ‘irregular’ Polish migrants were able to get ahead as ‘smart kombinators.’ Kombinowanie in turn marked a culturally rooted but continually (re)configured ‘style’ (Merleau-Ponty 1962) of agency that generalized to all kinds of status-related situations that required of migrants creative strategizing (e.g., for healthcare, employment). Notably, the extent to which kombinowanie escapes the sociopolitical powers that necessitate it, is a theoretical question that we have begun to address elsewhere (Ellis and Stam 2017). The point of this paper has been to undertake a more precise psychological analysis of the experiences of ‘irregular’ migrants to better understand the operations of migrant ‘illegalization’ at this level of analysis. Insofar as our findings coincide with those found with other cultural groups and in other contexts, we believe our work is relevant for critical scholarship on ‘illegalization’ and deportability. At the same time, we recognize that being white, Polish, and in Canada distinguished the experiences of our participants from other migrants. First, Polish citizens can travel to Canada without a visa-permit (as tourists) and thus their migration journeys are not dangerous in the way that they can be for Mexicans crossing illegally to the USA or Africans to Europe. Second, arriving in Toronto and Mississauga, Polish migrants have access to well-established ethnic communities within which they can live, work, and build social lives in Polish with other Poles. Third, as white Europeans, Polish migrants can avoid police racial profiling and minimize encounters with authorities in ways that visible minority groups cannot. Fourth, despite increasingly restrictive immigration practices, deportation raids remain relatively rare in Canada, allowing for a social context within which ‘irregular’ migrants are ‘unwelcome but tolerated’ (Bou-Zeid 2009). Finally, unlike asylum seekers who escape politically dangerous conditions, Polish migrants have the privilege of returning to a relatively safe country and have access to legal work in European Union member countries. In all these ways, Polish ‘irregular’ migrants in Canada hold more privileged positions than other ‘illegal’ migrants in different countries. Additionally, it is evident that—despite its unique configuration for the purposes of surviving deportable circumstances—kombinowanie is an exclusively Polish term and cultural practice that cannot be directly generalized onto other cultural settings (Bisko 2014). We do not see this as a problem, however, but as evidence for the cultural specificity of migrant ‘illegality’. That is, our research suggests that conditions of migrant ‘illegality’ are uniquely configured and ‘enacted’ (Baerveldt and Verheggen 1999) by migrants who necessarily express themselves through culturally patterned modes of expression. We find support for this in emerging ethnographic research on the lives of differing ethnic groups involved in informal practices in other societies. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Braun (2016) describes débrouillardisme as a kind of ‘resourcefulness’ required of Kinshasa women to succeed in informal sectors. Ledeneva (2008) finds similarities in contemporary expressions of the Russian blat to the Chinese guanxi—two informal practices generated under Soviet rule and premised upon social networks, informal connections, and favors. Finally, in the United States, Gonzales (2016) discusses ‘hustling’ as a kind of informal practice engaged by 1.5 generation undocumented Latino youth seeking to meet their needs in the American informal economy. Taken together, research suggests that processes of ‘illegalization’ may contribute to culturally distinct yet nevertheless comparable modes of being. Indeed, it is because our study was concerned less with Polish culture than with the formation of a culture of ‘illegality’ among Polish migrants, that the major experiential themes identified in this study resemble those found in other studies of migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability (e.g. fears of deportation, precariousness, inability to plan for the future, etc.). However, by taking a closer look at the psychosocial dynamics of migrant lives, we unpack homogenous understandings of deportability and propose a psychological theory that can help us better understand how varied psychological themes found in the literature coalesce within the temporal plane of subjective life. Generally speaking, the condition of deportability is assumed in the migration literature as a palpable, fearful state that functions to keep migrants docile, vulnerable and exploitable (Peutz and De Genova 2010). Yet, researchers also recognize that migrants’ daily activities often have little to do with their legal status, and for the most part, it is only when status-relevant situations arise that ‘illegality’ becomes an issue (Coutin 2003; Lowry and Nyers 2003; Talavera, Núñez-Mchiri and Heyman 2010). Although both claims lend support to critical migration theory—as ‘illegalization’ functions to keep migrants sufficiently fearful so that they may continue working as cheap laborers—neither succeeds to capture the psychology of deportability and the extensive efforts required of migrants to coordinate this process. That fears of deportation are not overwhelming on a daily basis is not the result of the low probability of deportation but of the deliberate self-interventions on the part of migrants who learn to downplay, rationalize, and ignore their fears in order to achieve their migratory aims. Such psychological remedies become necessary for contradictory reasons. On the one hand, despite/because of their unequal circumstances, ‘illegal’ migrants can (and do) build homes, improve their jobs, make friends, and raise their families in the underground—all of which keeps them invested in their Canadian life projects. On the other hand, having to live and work in deportable conditions is difficult, demeaning, and grows exhausting over time, especially when opportunities for regularization also grow dim. Further, while ‘irregular’ migrants could go for weeks without experiencing threats of deportation, all encounter moments of acute deportability that bring to the fore their deportable status, summoning them to creative responses, and leaving imprints on their bodies in the form of unshakable, residual fears. We have described these dynamics as cycles of deportability and argue that it is through their repetitive occurrence that migrants learn to ‘be illegal’ over time. Yet, there is more to ‘illegal’ migration than the exploitation of labor, and as kombinowanie serves to show, migrants are intractable, capable of re-imagining and re-working their circumstances. Further, by mapping ‘irregular’ migrants’ psychological dynamics on the temporal plane of subjective life, we saw how the entire trajectory of becoming ‘irregular’ is organized around the aims of goal-seeking agents who variably interpret their conditions and choose to live within them on their own terms (see also Ellis and Stam 2017). As mentioned, social scientists have called for studies to better understand how ‘irregular’ migrants negotiate the contradictory conditions that characterize their lives (Bloch and Chimienti 2011). Yet, just as migrants’ narratives populate the literature, it remains unclear how these are embedded in and gain meaning from broader temporal and teleological existences (Willen 2007). Consider the following research findings about the experiences of Mexican migrants in the United States. Gomberg-Muñoz (2010) deliberately emphasizes how undocumented Mexican migrants in Chicago develop ‘hard worker’ identities that sustain their dignity and self-esteem; but at the same time, she notes that migrants resent their willingness to work hard and see this as a special feature of the undocumented situations. Apostolidis (2010) in turn shows how Mexican migrants in the USA tend to explain their undocumentedness as ‘a condition of utter helplessness and subjection to whims of fate’ (66); yet, they ‘also expressed, more subtly but still detectably, the desire to control their own destinies in the process of migrating north and living everyday life without legal documents’ (67). These are important findings that undermine flat, one-dimensional accounts of ‘illegal’ migrants and expose the common contradictions that characterize deportable life more generally. Yet, when their dynamics are not theorized as within the plane of migrants’ subjective lives, it remains unclear how they ought to be related—that is, which ‘side’ should receive emphasis or why are these dynamics produced; and accordingly, researchers tend to resort to their theoretical aims to choose their points of emphasis—for example, to counter top-down explanations (Gomberg-Muñoz 2010) or alternatively, to show how deportability effectively generates docile and cheap laborers (Basok, Bélanger and Rivas 2014). By examining how these contradictions play out as psychological tensions in lived time, we can explain more confidently how they relate to one another from the migrant’s perspective and by extension, how they gain their meaning from a broader temporal and teleological existence. In sum, taking a cultural psychological perspective within the context of critical migration studies allows for a nuanced study of the psychological dynamics of migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability, which are not only shaped by sociopolitical determinants but navigated by migrants who hold varied aims and outlooks. Indeed, it should be emphasized that the entire dynamic of downplaying, rationalizing, negating, etc. that characterizes deportability only makes sense in relation to migrants’ desires for better lives for themselves and their families. That this goes overlooked in both scholarly and public discourses is problematic, since it allows for partial and/or oversimplified views of ‘irregular’ migrants—whether as victims or criminals. In our view, nothing is more pressing for psychologists concerned with these issues than the need to disclose the humanity of migrants as persons struggling to build their lives in increasingly precarious contexts. Acknowledgments We are grateful to all the participants in this study for sharing their time and reflections. We also thank Cor Baerveldt, Paul Voestermans, and the anonymous reviewers of Migration Studies for their insightful feedback on earlier versions of this work. Funding This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada and the Izaak Walton Killam Foundation in Canada. Footnotes 1. While the current Liberal administration has promised and in some cases succeeded to repeal some of the restrictive immigration policies implemented by the previous government (Zilio 2016), the trend of reliance on temporary migrants is unlikely to wane (Goldring et al. 2013). 2. Although Ellis originally intended to include an ethnically diverse group of participants, ethical limitations to recruitment measures restricted the study to an exclusively Polish sample. 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Migration Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Nov 1, 2018
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