1 This paper examines Indigenous and migrant labour in the agricultural sector of Mexico and the US as a lens to interrogate the relationship between migration and broader processes of neoliberal social transformation. I investigate how changes in agricultural production systems and processes of borderisation have led to the commodification and subordination of Indigenous labour and have transformed the multiple forms of work they performed at both sides of the Mexico-US border. Empirically, my critique is informed by the histories, experiences and agency of Mixtecos in Oaxaca (in the south of Mexico) and their countrymen and women who have settled as migrants with an irregular status in the agricultural fields of California (in the West coast of the US).  As such, I contribute to a long line of sociological and anthropological research on Oaxacan Indigenous migrants (Fox and Rivera-Salgado, 2004; Kearney and Nagengast, 1989; Stephen, 2007; Velasco Ortiz, 2002) and to more contemporary debates on the role of indigeneity as an axis of social and economic stratification operating at the cross-border setting (Asad and Hwang, 2018 and 2019; Hernández Corchado, 2018).
2 Conceptually, my analysis is informed by Castles’ (2010; see also Castles et al., 2015) social transformation perspective, which situates contemporary migration and migrant labour in a broader understanding of society that engages with multi-scalar changes brought by neoliberal globalisation. In this context, I draw attention to the emergence of the neoliberal subject of the worker-citizen (Anderson, 2015) — with its emphasis on hard-work, self-reliance and individual responsibility — to historicise and politicise the commodification and subordination of Indigenous and migrant labour. This illustrates that amid broader processes of neoliberal social transformation, the value of labour has been “defined from outside by exclusion, and from inside by failure” (Anderson and Hughes, 2015: 4). As I argue throughout, both through the growing differentiation in agricultural production systems and through the increasingly restrictive and selective nature of borders and immigration policies, the labour of Mixtecos has become undervalued as “unproductive” and “inefficient” in Mexico, while it has become subordinated as “low-skilled” and “illegal” in the US.
3 In this paper, I draw from primary and secondary research with Mixteco participants in San Juan Piñas (hereafter Piñas), an Indigenous village in Oaxaca with a long history of internal and international migration, and their migrant counterparts in the agricultural town of Santa Maria, one of the main destinations for migrants from Piñas in California. Yet, as noted in the title, my critique focuses conceptually on the agricultural fields of Oaxacalifornia, a socio-cultural and political space that Mixtecos and their migrant counterparts inhabit across borders (Kearney, 1995). In doing so, I purposely draw attention to how processes of neoliberal social transformation in both countries and communities of “origin” and “destination” affect the mobility and labour of Indigenous people in ways that cannot be fully understood in isolation from each other and from broader inclusions and exclusions in Mexico and the US. As such, I situate the growth of Indigenous emigration and the ongoing subordination of their labour in the context of parallel efforts to dismantle subsistence or small-scale farming in rural Mexico and to develop industrial agriculture in the Californias (Mexico’s Baja California and the US’ California). Similarly, I problematise the incorporation of Mixtecos as migrants with an irregular status in an era of borders, where migration policies increasingly engage in the “classed, raced and gendered social segregation of border crossers” (Wonders, 2006: 76).
4 In the following sections, I first provide an overview of Castles’ social transformation perspective — and Anderson’s notion of the worker citizen — that guide my conceptual analysis, followed by a discussion on my case study and methods. In my analysis, I foremost discuss how changes in agricultural production systems, and parallel efforts to restrict the mobility of (economically) wanted (but otherwise unwelcome) migrants, have (re)produced the differential inclusion (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2012) of Mixtecos in Mexico and the US.  Finally, and with reference to the ideal of the worker-citizen, I explore in further detail the specific ways in which the labour of Indigenous people has been institutionally undervalued and their mobility has been selectively restricted.
Migration, Neoliberal Social Transformation and the Differential Inclusion of Labour
5 My conceptual starting point is Castles’ (2010: 1566) call to discuss the “complexity, interconnectedness, variability, contextuality and multi-level mediations of migratory processes in the context of rapid [neoliberal] global change”. Following Polanyi’s (2001) critique of the “market economy” and recent developments linked to his work (Burawoy, 2015; Fraser, 2014; Munck, 2006), this social transformation perspective emphasises that the last four decades of neoliberal globalisation have witnessed a period of profound social, political and economic reorganisation in almost all parts of the world (Stiglitz, 2001). This has “entailed much ‘creative destruction’, not only of prior institutional frameworks and power… but also of divisions of labour, social relations, welfare provisions, technological mixes, ways of life and thought, reproductive activities, attachments to the land and the habits of the heart” (Harvey, 2005: 3). In this context, Castles and colleagues (Castles, 2010; Castles et al., 2015) suggest that many forms of contemporary migration — from local flows to transcontinental ones — are best understood in relation to the profound social, political and economic changes that have accompanied the expansion of the “market economy” and associated processes of commodification at the local, national and transnational level. In practice, this perspective reverses the usual analytical process of migration research. While most research starts from a specific migratory phenomenon, and then looks for “causes and consequences”, this starts from a critical study of neoliberal social transformation and goes on to show how migration is an intrinsic part of this process, with multi-directional and complex linkages to other forms of change. This embedded understanding of migration is critical to historicise and politicise the commodification and subordination of migrant labour.
6 Importantly, this perspective builds on an understanding of neoliberal social transformation as a “differentiated process of inclusion and exclusion of particular regions and social groups” (Castles, 2007: 359), where old and new inequalities between the “global north” and “global south”, and between countries and within them, are being created and reproduced. This is significant for analysis of migration and labour because, as highlighted by Bauman (1998: 9) more than two decades ago, “mobility has become the most powerful and most coveted stratifying factor; the stuff of which the new, increasingly world-wide, social, political, economic and cultural hierarchies are daily built and rebuilt”. Indeed, at a time where a person’s life chances — including, but not only, their work — are more than ever closely related to their place of residence and the citizenship they hold (Faist, 2019), and where borders are becoming increasingly selective (de Haas et al., 2018), the mobility and labour of people needs to be conceptually, contextually and analytically understood in relation to these complex dynamics of differential inclusion (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2012).
7 In this context, Anderson’s (2015; see also Anderson and Hughes, 2015) notion of the worker-citizen, increasingly defined through the neoliberal ideal of hard-work, self-reliance and individual responsibility, provides a solid anchor to evaluate the differentiating construction of certain forms of mobility and labour as legal and desirable, and others as illegal and unwanted. As noted by Anderson (2015, 52):
“[A] strongly moral dimension to labour is a feature of many of the debates around migration... For migrants the moral value of labour helps to turn it into a right that is intimately tied up with belonging, a right that they do not have, so it is that the migrant is presented as unfairly taking jobs from hard-working nationals. Yet… for citizens the moral value of labour turns it into a duty that some fail to fulfil.”
9 Here, the “failed citizen” emerges in the figure of individuals and groups (such as the welfare “dependent”, the “disabled” and arguably the Indigenous) who are perceived or portrayed as failing to live up to the neoliberal ideal of the worker-citizen. In contrast, the “non-citizen” (such as the migrant or the refugee) is excluded from this ideal in the first place. As such, the neoliberal ideal of hard-work, self-reliance and individual responsibility is materialised from the outside through bordering practices that render migrants deportable and reinforce imaginaries of belonging and hierarchical economic and social relations (including in the labour market) (Anderson, 2019). Yet, this ideal is also materialised from the inside through other spheres of differentiation, including the regulation of entitlements and welfare (Anderson, 2015; Könönen, 2018), and arguably through the regulation of production systems such as agriculture (Appendini, 2014). Thus, and crucial to broader processes of neoliberal social transformation, the work and labour of those perceived as failing to live up to the ideal of the neoliberal worker-citizen becomes undervalued as “unproductive” and “inefficient”, while the labour of those excluded becomes subordinated as “low-skilled” and “illegal”.
Case Study and Methods
10 In practice, I draw from primary and secondary research with Mixteco participants in Piñas and their migrant counterparts in Santa Maria to explore how, amid broader processes of neoliberal social transformation, the value of Indigenous labour has been redefined along the neoliberal ideal of the worker-citizen in ways that (re)produce their differential inclusion across borders. To provide some background, Piñas is in the Juxtlahuaca district in la Mixteca region. The village is relatively small, with a population of roughly 871 people, all of whom were categorised as “Indigenous” by the latest census (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, 2013). The main language spoken there is Mixteco, although some men and young women also speak Spanish. Most people work in subsistence or small-scale agriculture. In addition, men (and some women) routinely serve cargos and mayordomias (civic and religious offices) and perform tequio (communal work) as part of the system of usos y costumbres (customary law) that governs the village, while women also perform various forms of domestic labour. On the other side of the border, Santa Maria is in Santa Barbara County. The town is part of the Santa Maria Valley, an important agricultural area that produces commodities that reach the US and global markets all year round. The town has a population of 99,553 people, 65.5% of who are of “Mexican” origin (US Census Bureau, 2015). While there is no reliable data of the population size of Mixtecos in Santa Maria, previous estimates suggested between 10,000-15,000 (Cardenas, 2006) and 15,000-25,000 people (Lanham, 2013). Like many participants in this study, Mixtecos in Santa Maria are primarily employed as farmworkers in industrial agriculture (Mines et al., 2010), one of the most labour-demanding and lowest-paid jobs.
11 Primary research included a combination of semi-structured interviews, focus groups, participant and site observation and participatory photography. I conducted fifty semi-structured interviews with fifty male and female participants (twenty-five in Piñas and twenty-five in Santa Maria) and six key informants in Oaxaca and California (including Indigenous migrant leaders, academics, teachers and educational officers, government officials and representatives of non-profit legal and political advocacy groups). The initial findings of these semi-structured interviews were explored further in two focus group sessions with Mixteco participants (one per field site). Both interviews and focus groups were conducted primarily in Mixteco or Spanish, often with the assistance of one of four local research assistants who had in-depth knowledge of “local” people, culture, the Mixteco language and ways of life. In addition, I conducted nine months of participant and site observation, and engaged four participants to take part in exercises of participatory photography, as an adaptation of photo voice (for more on this method, see Arias Cubas, 2020). The transcripts of semi-structured interviews, focus groups and field notes, and selected pictures and annotations from the exercises of participatory photography, were translated into English before being systematically analysed in Nvivo using hierarchically structured thematic nodes. In the following sections, I draw from a selection of these interviews and focus groups, as well as from the pictures and annotations produced by participant photographers, to guide my discussion.
Indigenous Labour, Agriculture and Migration
12 While Mixtecos from villages like Piñas share a long history of internal and international migration (Cornelius et al., 2009; Fitzgerald et al., 2013; Fox and Rivera-Salgado, 2004; Velasco Ortiz and París Pombo, 2014), emigration from la Mixteca grew exponentially in the last decades of the 20th century. This increase coincided with a period of profound social, economic and political transformation in Mexico and the US (Rivera-Salgado, 2014), which was also marked by an increase in national and international migration. In this section, I explore how the weakening of small-scale agriculture (the economic base of Indigenous communities in places like Oaxaca), and the parallel growth of industrial agriculture in the Californias, influenced the mobility and labour of Mixtecos. In doing so, my focus on agriculture as a sphere of differentiation emphasises how processes of neoliberal social transformation cemented the devaluation of Indigenous labour in subsistence or small-scale agriculture, while they lead to their essential incorporation as a source of cheap and flexible migrant labour in the industrial fields of the north (Barrón Pérez and Hernández Trujillo, 2019; Zabin, 1994).
13 Within Mexico, as in many other countries in the world, there is a growing differentiation between agricultural production systems. One consists of “large-scale commercial production which is essentially an extension of North American agribusiness south of the border”, the other is still comprised of “small subsistence peasant holding which for the most part are in marginal lands that are not under capitalist production” (Stuart and Kearney, 1981: 2, see also, Appendini, 2014; Eakin et al., 2014a; Fox and Haight, 2010). This disparity across peoples, villages, and regions is related to the long-term effect of economic policies, which for decades favoured the production of labour-intensive high-value exportable fruit, vegetable and horticultural (FVH) crops in large privately owned or leased lands in agricultural enclaves such as the San Quintín valley (in the northwest of Mexico), over the production of subsistence crops in communal lands such as in Piñas (in the south) (Hicks, 1967; Rochin, 1985). The gap has grown further since the 1990s as unilateral industrial deregulation led to the comparative growth of the production of high-value exportable crops (Pechlaner and Otero, 2010), and as the reorientation of rural development policy shifted away from agricultural support for small producers and towards “anti-poverty” programs (Appendini, 2014; Fox and Haight, 2010). While this benefited large producers of exportable crops, the accompanying loss of work and income in subsistence or small-scale agriculture (Lewis and Runsten, 2008; Pechlaner and Otero, 2010), and the resulting growth in emigration, became some of the most localised expressions of neoliberal social transformation in rural Mexico (see Photography 1 below).
Photography 1: Agricultural Fields in Piñas
Photography 1: Agricultural Fields in PiñasComment: For decades agriculture has been an important source of production and profit. However, it barely provides for the nutritional needs of each family. It does not fully meet all the needs of every person so many are forced to migrate.
14 The local impact of changes in agricultural production systems on villages like Piñas can be analysed through the experiences of small coffee producers. Coffee has traditionally functioned as an alternative source of income to emigration and coffee-growers are small-scale, geographically remote, and largely Indigenous (Lewis and Runsten, 2008). It has been well documented (Renard, 2010) that the price of coffee has repeatedly plummeted since the international and national coffee market was liberalised in the late 1980s. This combined changes “deprived smallholders of financial, technical, and marketing services and left them particularly vulnerable to the price fluctuations” (Lewis and Runsten, 2008: 277). One of the consequences was the growth of emigration. As reported by one migrant leader, “more people migrated after the crisis of 1994, when the price of coffee and corn collapsed” (interview, Santa Maria). Despite these changes, many of those who remain in Piñas still grow coffee (and corn) in their fields (Eakin et al., 2014b). Natalio captured this complexity with his photographs and his comments on the topic (see Photography 2). While the price of coffee has grown slightly in recent years, the price paid to small-scale producers remains extremely low given the extent of labour required, the prices paid by consumers, and the vulnerability of small producers to future price drops. As highlighted by Natalio, coffee is no longer an alternative source of income to emigration, making locals more dependent on income earned outside of the community through emigration (see also Photography 1 above).
Photography 2: Harvest of Coffee in Piñas
Photography 2: Harvest of Coffee in PiñasComment: “It is so good that in these difficult times we are starting to get paid well for our coffee”. Every family agrees now that producing and selling coffee is the priority… Before, they paid us US$3-4 for maquila [approx. 5-7kg], but now they pay more than US$5. People have their own plantations, and the family itself looks after them and weeds them… It is only during the harvest time that three or four other people are hired to pick the coffee for a maximum of five days or so. People are paid US$7 a day. We harvest around ten sacks of coffee a year. Each sack has five-to-six maquilas.
15 In addition to this localised expression of neoliberal social transformation, the mobility and labour of Mixtecos in Piñas and their migrant counterparts cannot be understood in isolation from the growth of industrial agriculture in the Californias. Large-scale commercial agriculture is a highly internationalised industry, which has historically been “one of the few sectors where production on both sides of the border uses the same technologies, is financed by the same capital, and sells in the same markets” (Zabin, 1994: 186; see also Garrapa, 2020). In Mexico, while large amounts of private and public research, finance and technology contributed to the development of agribusinesses in Baja California (hereafter Baja) (Hicks, 1967; Rochin, 1985), Mixtecos and other migrant workers provided the industry with a much-needed source of cheap and flexible labour to support the production of high-value, labour-intensive, seasonal exportable crops (Garduño et al., 1989; Hernández Corchado, 2018). In the case of Piñas in particular, migration intensified during the 1980s, as migrants were recruited through enganchadores (labour contractors) to work seasonally in the San Quintín valley (Garrapa, 2020). This recollection by Elvira resonates with those of other participants who migrated to work seasonally in the strawberry and tomatoes fields of San Quintín:
“The first time I went to Baja California I was twenty years old [in 1992]. I went there with my husband. I worked on the fields for two months even though I had my baby boy with me… We continued going to Baja. The second time we worked picking tomatoes, and the third time. We used to go for four-five months and then we would return to Piñas to clean our pineapple plantation.” (Interview, Piñas)
17 As with migrants from other villages in la Mixteca, with time migrants from Piñas started to travel north to California — the leading farm state of the US — in search of better opportunities. A history of these early flows emerges from the recollections of participants: “the first ones to emigrate to the north went in 1982… Then in 1990-1991 lots of people began to emigrate” (Interview with Gerardo, Piñas). Importantly, here too is the growth of migration linked to the development of large-scale commercial agriculture. Like agriculture south of the border, the industry in California experienced significant changes over the last few decades, including a shift towards the production of labour-intensive high-value exportable commercial crops, and the use of new agricultural technologies and associated managerial skills (Martin, 2009; Palerm, 1994 and 1999). On balance many of the crops produced in California continue to be labour intensive as “the expansion of FVH production stabilised the employment of hired workers despite significant labour-saving mechanisation” (Martin, 2009: 46). The importance of Mexican migrant farmworkers as a source of labour in the agricultural fields of California is of course not new (Cohen, 2011; Palerm, 2014; Scruggs, 1960). Yet, in line with a historical pattern of ethnic replacement, since the 1980s Mixtecos and other Indigenous migrants began to substitute mestizo Mexican farmworkers in some of the most labour-intensive crops (Zabin et al., 1993).  This is evident in the expanding strawberry fields of the Santa Maria Valley (see Photography 3), which is now home to migrants from Piñas (Palerm, 1994). Here, just like south of the border, Indigenous migrant workers have continued to provide the industry with the much-needed cheap and flexible labour that sustains it (Martin, 2013; Palerm, 2014).
Photography 3: Strawberry Fields in Santa Maria
Photography 3: Strawberry Fields in Santa MariaComment: This picture has many stories to tell. You see the strawberry plants, but people have been waiting for three or four months for the arrival of the season to return to work. Farm work is hard and seasonal. People sometimes work ten to twelve hours a day in the sun. You always have to work squatting while picking and pushing the trolley… When it rains everything gets covered in mud, but you have to continue to work. There are also times that you get sick and you don’t know if it is a dust allergy or something to do with pesticides.
Indigenous Labour, Borders, and Migration
18 Along with the above-mentioned changes in the agricultural production systems of Mexico and the US, increasingly restrictive borders and selective immigration policies have further cemented the differential inclusion of Mixtecos and the subordination of their labour. In the same period that the agricultural fields of the Californias were being transformed and integrated, US immigration policy selectively limited the mobility and increased the deportability of migrant farmworkers. This reflects the broader dynamics of “inequality of power, economics, and the human condition” (Alvarez, 1995: 451) that has come to characterise the Mexico-US border in the neoliberal era (see also Fernández-Kelly and Massey, 2007). Indeed, while the border has become more permeable for goods and those with wealth and capital, the mobility of the “low-skilled” or the “poor” has become ever more constrained and the everyday lives — including their labour — have become defined by institutionalised uncertainty and precarity. It is in this restrictive environment, that most of my participants made their way into and settled in Santa Maria.
19 Migration from Piñas to Santa Maria escalated on par with the increasing “securitisation” of migration. In particular, the initial growth of Indigenous migration coincided with the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986, which combined an amnesty for migrants with an irregular status and increased enforcement measures in the form of employer sanctions and increased funding for border patrol (Alarcón, 2011). Compared to other Mexican migrants, the immediate impact of IRCA’s amnesty on Mixteco migrants was limited, precisely because of the relatively shorter history and small scale of Indigenous migration at the time (Runsten and Kearney, 1994; Stephen, 2002).  In contrast though, the long-term impact of accompanying “securitisation” measures has been ongoing and significant. Indeed, IRCA set the tone for a more hostile environment that increased the deportability and limited the mobility of migrants with an irregular status. A combination of more recent Acts (e.g., the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 or the Secure Fence Act of 2006), enforcement programs (e.g., “Comunidades Seguras”), and executive orders (e.g., the “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” or the “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” orders of 2017) have not only contributed more funding and personnel to border patrol, but have also expanded the definition and conditions of deportations, and have made it more difficult, lengthy and costly for migrants to regularise their immigration status (Massey et al., 2016; Stephen, 2002).
20 The resulting increase in institutionalised uncertainty and precarity is evident among participants in Santa Maria. As illustrated by the experiences of Maria, many have been directly affected by deportations:
“My whole family has been here [in Santa Maria] since 1992… but my brother was deported two months ago. His family is here too, but he is stranded in Tijuana (Baja California).” (Interview, Santa Maria)
22 But many others are also affected indirectly through an increased sense of vulnerability and fear. As explained by Eugenia:
“You are insecure and anxious because you have no papers. I know about young people that have been detained and deported, and their families are left here… And sometimes one cannot leave the house because of this fear of encountering la migra.” (Interview, Santa Maria)
24 Likewise, most participants are no longer able to travel back to Piñas as the costs and risks associated with crossing the border are too high. Indeed, it is only young and experienced migrants who continue to travel across. The majority of Mixteco children and elders in Santa Maria have become immobile (see Photography 4). In this context of limited opportunities and increasing deportability, many migrants are described as “trapped” (Stephen, 2002; Velasco Ortiz and París Pombo, 2014). This is illustrated by the experiences of Emma, who has lived and worked continuously in California’s farms since 1982. While some of her youngest children are US citizens, she and her two eldest have been unable to regularise their status. Emma explained that:
“I am not satisfied with my life here. I want immigration reform so I can go out to visit my town! I want to be able to go out freely, to go to Piñas to visit my family. I cannot do this now, crossing the line is too dangerous… I live in fear. I do not want to be deported… We need reform!” (Interview, Santa Maria)
Photography 4: A Family of Migrants in Santa Maria
Photography 4: A Family of Migrants in Santa MariaComment: All of us who are here [in the US] come and get together once a year. We have much more family in Mexico but we cannot see them because of the border — we are separated by the wall and the laws.
26 In this context, it is notable that there have been no recent opportunities for so-called “low-skilled” migrants to regularise their immigration status. Foremost, comprehensive immigration reform bills that included an expedited pathway to regularisation for farmworkers (such as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013) have repeatedly failed in recent years. So have parallel efforts outside of the comprehensive immigration reform framework (such as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019) (Bolter et al., 2021). In addition, initiatives like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) have offered few opportunities for migrants from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds (Batalova et al., 2014; Seif et al., 2014). Indeed, it has been the likes of the participants in this study — those who have lower to no English skills and struggle more financially, those who have had less access to education and who live “with high levels of poverty despite high levels of employment” — who have benefited the least from opportunities to avoid deportation and gain access to education and work visas (Batalova et al., 2014: 19).
Indigenous and Migrant Labour in Piñas and Santa Maria
27 Building on my previous discussion on the growing differentiation between agricultural production systems and on the increasingly restrictive and selective nature of borders and immigration policies, in this section I explore in further detail the ways in which the labour of Mixtecos has been subordinated as “unproductive” and “inefficient” in Mexico and as “low-skilled” and “illegal” in the US. In doing so, I draw from Anderson’s (2015; see also Anderson and Hughes, 2015) notion of the worker-citizen as a tool to historicise and politicise the differential inclusion of Mixtecos and their migrant counterparts. This notion emphasises the increasing value placed upon the neoliberal ideal of hard-work, self-reliance and individual responsibility, and the ways those who are portrayed as “failing” to live up to this ideal, and those who are in principle excluded from it, are marginalised as a result. Indeed, the ideal of the worker-citizen encapsulates a dominant neoliberal framing of certain forms of mobility and labour as legal and valuable, and others as illegal and unwanted, that allows one to better understand the histories and experiences of participants in Piñas and Santa Maria.
28 In Mexico, the productive activities of Indigenous people — whether in subsistence or small-scale agriculture, at home, or in local systems of authority and reciprocity — have been devaluated as unproductive or inefficient. This emphasises a dominant understanding of neoliberal “value” as inherent only in those goods and services that can be exchanged in the market, and a resulting “myopic approach” (Waring, 1999) which only recognises certain types of work as valuable. While people in communities such as Piñas are confronted by a virtual lack of waged employment (which has encouraged emigration to the Californias), the fact is that they work, and they work a lot, but they do so in activities that are undervalued. For instance, female participants look after children or elders on an everyday basis, they raise animals and tend the family fields, they even run small convenience stores. Under the system of usos y costumbres, most working-age women also serve their tequio, while a minority also serves the community as health promoters on a yearly basis. Similarly, male participants work on the family fields and serve their tequio, and those of working-age also serve cargos and mayordomias. Yet, most of my participants did not earn a formal wage from these activities, and by most dominant accounts would be considered as failing to live up to the neoliberal ideal of the worker-citizen.
29 This framing of Indigenous people as unproductive or inefficient neglects the value of diverse forms of labour that coexist in Piñas. Historically, this resulted in their exclusion from the benefits of health care, social security and pension systems that were afforded exclusively to waged workers in the private and the public sector. This devaluation was further heightened by the country’s two-track approach to rural and agricultural development described in previous sections. Indigenous people and other rural populations became increasingly and solely targeted through social programs designed for the unproductive “poor” (rather than through agricultural support programs for small and medium-scale producers) (Fox and Haight, 2010: 13). As explained in more detail by Appendini (2014: 6), as these populations were re-categorised “as ‘inefficient’ and ‘uncompetitive’ and were excluded from government credits and subsidised inputs, technical assistance and market outlets… they became subject to social programs… which provided food rations and stipends to poor households”. This process was clearly evident in Piñas, where despite the significance of agriculture as a main form of work and a source of livelihood, there were only five recipients of agricultural support programs (Secretaría de Agricultura, 2015) compared to 511 “beneficiaries” of anti-poverty programs (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social, 2015).
30 The shadow of this misrecognition and devaluation follows Mixtecos from villages such as Piñas as they travel north in the search for waged employment. This is most evident in the historical flexibility that has been ascribed to farm work in the industrial fields of Mexico and the US (see Photography 3 above). Indeed, “seasonal” farmworkers are some of the least protected workers, and even now many of the protections given by law to others are denied to them. Horton (2016: 63) refers to them as “exceptional workers”, whom due to employers’ arguments about agricultural exceptionalism — including but not limited to the perishability of crops and the unpredictability of the labour supply — have been exempt from “the federal protections governing work in other industries”. For instance, in Mexico under the Ley del Seguro Social (Social Security Law), farmworkers or jornaleros (temporary workers) are excluded from most social security benefits that are afforded to permanent workers employed in the private sector through the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (Mexican Social Security Institute or IMSS). Age pensions, health care, sick leave, and other entitlements are inaccessible due in part to the seasonal nature of their work, but also due to obstructions from their employers (including the persistence of cash payments, the failure to provide workers with contracts, and the refusal to register them with the IMSS) (Castañeda et al., 2016; Zlolniski, 2019). Similarly, in terms of unionisation and the right to collective bargaining, the historical lack of independent labour unions in Mexico meant that farmworkers rarely had any input in negotiations, and they lacked protection and representation in official disputes (Castañeda et al., 2016; Zlolniski, 2019). This has been a source of much conflict until recently, as evidenced by the development of an independent labour movement led by Indigenous ethnic organizations in San Quintín in 2015 .
31 Similarly in the US, farmworkers have been excluded from key federal protections. For instance, farmworkers were initially excluded from the Fair Labour Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, which established guarantees of minimum wage and overtime, and which set restrictions on child labour. It was not until 1966 that some of the FLSA provisions began to apply to a limited number of farmworkers. However, restricted overtime provisions still apply only to those working on large farms, while children in agriculture remain the least protected workers (Farmworkers Justice, 2016a; Holmes, 2013). Similarly, farmworkers were excluded from the National Labour Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, which granted others the right to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers. Farmworkers only gained the right to bargain in California under the Agricultural Labour Relations Act (ALRA) of 1975 and after strong campaigning from the United Farm Workers (UFW) (Holmes, 2013; Martin, 2009). Yet, due to a combination of factors, such as the involvement of labour contractors in hiring and the fear of deportations or reprisals among migrant workers, rates of unionisation remain low (Martin, 2003). What is notable about these forms of exceptionalism in Mexico and the US, is that despite the transition of Indigenous people to wage employment, and despite their “productivity” and “efficiency” in the industrial fields, their labour continues to be institutionally undervalued to ensure the supply of cheap and flexible labour to industrial agriculture.
32 In addition, in the US, the increasingly restrictive and selective nature of borders and immigration policies has further subordinated the labour of Indigenous migrant farmworkers as “low-skilled” and “illegal”. Participants in Santa Maria belong the bottom rung of the farm labour market, where their incomes are seasonal and poor at best (see Photography 5).  This dangerous dependence on precarious work is accentuated not only by the lack of alternative job opportunities for migrants with an irregular status, but also by their exclusion from most social entitlements and welfare provisions that have been traditionally afforded to citizens and “legal” residents based on their labour force status. Indeed, while farmworkers could be seen as the model of hard-work, self-reliance and individual responsibility so heralded by the neoliberal ideal of the worker-citizen, the construction of illegality excludes them and other “low-skilled” workers from this ideal (Anderson, 2015; Castles et al., 2012). This differential inclusion is not only institutionalised through immigration enforcement measures (such as those discussed previously), but also by their exclusion from social security programmes (unemployment benefits, access to health care and aged pensions) which have been traditionally associated with the decommodification of labour (Standing, 2011). Notably, a clear sign of this contradiction is that even though these programs are out of reach for migrants with an irregular status, many of them as waged workers are still required to pay a share of their salaries as contributions.
Photography 5: Work Opportunities for Migrants with an Irregular Status
Photography 5: Work Opportunities for Migrants with an Irregular StatusComment: This is my husband. He is a professional painter and he worked in painting and construction for almost seven years. He lost his job because he did not have papers… He was fired before they fined his boss. Since then he has had to work on the fields. The biggest difference is that he used to earn much more money. He worked forty hours a week and earned between US$450-$500 a week, every week of the year. In the field one works up to seventy hours a week and earns on average US$380 a week, but only when there is work. In the winter he earns US$168 a week — and he is fortunate to have work. Many of our countrymen are out of work those months.
33 A prime example of the negative impact of this exclusion is health care. Health care is particularly important for farmworkers given that the industry is characterised as “hazardous” in terms of fatalities, injuries, and work-related ill-health (International Labour Organisation, 2016). Accordingly, participants often raised concerns about their immediate health (e.g., stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, backpain, and rheumatism). They also expressed more long-term concerns about how the “the field finishes you” (Interview with Marian, Santa Maria). This reflects a common knowledge that as migrants grow older their bodies are no longer able to cope with the requirements of industrial agriculture because of the demanding nature of the work and the associate decline in their health. Yet, and given the structure of the US health system, Mixteco farmworkers have an extraordinarily low level of insurance coverage that hinders their ability to pay for and access appropriate care (see Photography 6) (Mines et al., 2010). In general, while children and pregnant women can access health services through the provisions of Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid health care program) for low-income households, most adult migrants have only limited access to care for “emergency” conditions (Farmworkers Justice, 2016b). An immediate consequence of this exclusion from social security programs is that those who are ill and cannot afford the cost of care are unable to work, while others endure chronic mental or physical illnesses, or often become indebted while paying for ineffective treatments.  Furthermore, a more substantial consequence is the heightened sense of institutionalised uncertainty and precarity that rises from this form of exclusion, and which reinforces the subordination caused by measures designed to increase their deportability and limit their mobility.
Photography 6: Access to Health Care in Santa Maria
Photography 6: Access to Health Care in Santa MariaComment: This is one of the hospitals that services Santa Maria. Migrants can only access free services in case of an emergency, meaning life or death. If it is not such a serious case one has to pay a lot of money for any service.
34 In this paper, I operationalised a social transformation perspective (Castles, 2010; Castles et al., 2015) to historicise and politicise the differential inclusion of Indigenous people and the commodification and subordination of their labour at both sides of the Mexico-US border. This social transformation perspective situates Indigenous migration and migrant labour across Oaxacalifornia in a broader understanding of society, with multi-directional and complex linkages to other forms of change. Accordingly, and drawing from the case study of Mixteco participants in Piñas and Santa Maria, I argued that the value of labour has been redefined along the neoliberal ideal of the worker-citizen that facilitates the management of their mobility and labour in grossly differentiating ways.
35 I explored how the simultaneous abandonment of small-scale or subsistence agriculture in Oaxaca, and the development of industrial agriculture in the Californias, cemented the devaluation of Indigenous labour as “unproductive” and “inefficient” while it led to their essential incorporation as a source of cheap and flexible labour in the industrial fields. Crucially this framing of Indigenous people not only neglects the value of diverse forms of labour in Piñas and elsewhere, but also institutionalises their differential inclusion through their exclusion from agricultural support programs limited to agricultural “producers” and from social protection benefits afforded to “permanent” waged workers in the private sector. Likewise, I explored how efforts to restrict the mobility and increase the deportability of economically needed, but otherwise unwelcome, migrants further subordinated Indigenous labour as “low-skilled” and “illegal” in the US. Here, their immigration status overrides the value of their work to exclude them from the employment benefits and work entitlements afforded to citizen-workers and “legal” residents, while they, along with other “low-skilled” migrants, are simultaneously denied opportunities to regularise their immigration status.
36 To conclude, my analysis spoke to broader inclusions and exclusions in Mexico and the US and their inherent contradictions. In particular, I highlighted the impossibility of the neoliberal ideal of the worker-citizen, whereby the strenuous labour of Indigenous people in agriculture is institutionally undervalued irrespective of the work they perform or where they perform it, while their immigration status further reinforces their ongoing uncertainty and precarity. Indeed, this contradiction is central to the differential inclusion of Indigenous people and a key feature of the “success” of industrial agriculture and of restrictive and selective immigration policies in maintaining a much-needed source of cheap and flexible labour across the Mexico-US border.
The Mixtecos, or Ñuu Savi, form one of Mexico’s largest Indigenous groups and are increasingly well known for their internal (Velasco Ortiz, 2002; Vogt, 2006) and international mobility (Fox and Rivera-Salgado, 2004; Stephen, 2007). As estimated by a state government official, up to 300,000 Mixtecos reside in the US, with thousands more living and working in north-west Mexico (interview, Oaxaca City).
As noted by Mezzadra and Nielson (2012: 191), the concept of differential inclusion provides “a means for describing and analyzing how inclusion in a sphere or realm can be subject to varying degrees of subordination, rule, discrimination, and segmentation”.
It has been estimated that while Indigenous farmworkers from southern Mexico accounted for around 6% of California’s farm labour in 1993-1996, this increased to 20% of farm labour in 2005-2010 (Rivera-Salgado, 2014). More recent estimates are not available.
Of the twenty-five participants in Santa Maria, only one male was able to regularise his status through IRCA. It was a similar among the twelve returned migrants in Piñas, where only one male was able to regularise his status.
As documented in 2015 by David Bacon, writer and photojournalist, https://prospect.org/labor/cross-border-farmworker-rebellion/
Only one in five participants working in agriculture held year-round jobs, while some were able to secure employment for only four or five months a year. Notably, off-season work is often less profitable as farmworkers are only able to secure a limited number of hours on intermittent days, if at all (Farmworkers Justice, 2016).
This includes cases like Raúl’s or Estela’s. Raúl relied on ethno-specific treatments for an illness in his legs and lamented that “I am unable to work and sometimes I cannot walk. We are living off our savings, because my wife cannot work as she is looking after our little children and I cannot help” (interview, Santa Maria). Likewise, Estela who had sought help from private doctors explained that “they give me tablets to make it better for a while. [But] I have to go back to the doctor at the start of every season because I feel weak and suffer from depression” (interview, Santa Maria).