Marisol Clark-Ibáñez – University of Copenhagen

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Negotiating (In)visibilities > Coming Events > 2012 > V. Changing Cultures of (In)Visibilities > Marisol Clark-Ibáñez

Marisol Clark-Ibáñez, California State University San Marcos

'In/visibility & Ethics: The Case of Undocumented Immigrants' 

This paper will share three inter-related issues pertaining to undocumented Latino immigrants in the United States. They will serve as a lens to better understand the ethics related to multiple (and sometimes simultaneous) experiences of visibility and invisibility.

First, research will be presented on the visibility and invisibility of undocumented immigrants in the news media: when and how often they are mentioned, along with the analysis of quotes and images. The research was based on 107 news articles, collected from local, state-level, and nation newspapers over a 3 months time period. Some findings were: more negative images (crime) than positive, abstract notions of “illegal immigration” compared to human interest focus, and the lack of  “voice” of the actual undocumented immigrants, even in positive accounts. Given the role of media shaping public opinion and public policy, the immigration reform debates can be shaped by these constructs.

Second, the empirical condition of undocumented immigrants, as shown through their experiences in the community and through the educational pipeline, will be discussed. While this group is often described as “living in the shadows,” this paper highlights their agency. Discourse of “invisibility” for this group disempowers them as a political and economic force. Recent political activism, such as the “Coming out of the Shadows” social movement, explicitly engage in making the status of “undocumented” visible, despite great risks. At the same time, the everyday is embedded with strategies of invisibility for many undocumented immigrants, and in particular, for undocumented mothers and students.

Third, as researchers apply for the approval of institutional review boards (IRB), the discourse on vulnerability (as it pertains to federally protected groups) can result in further rending invisible the pertinent (and often painful) aspects of living as an undocumented person. While human subject protection is the goal of IRB, the mission creep of “risk management” at some universities, also inhibits the researcher from collaborating with communities who have been marginalized. 

Finally, as a way to understand these dynamics of being visible and invisible, the paper concludes by presenting the usefulness of a theory of invisibility that includes the intersection of corporeality (seeing), ephemerality (hearing), agency (power), and affect (emotion) as played out through time and expanded by experience (Mohabeer 2010). It will be concluded that such a theory is necessary to encompass multiple frames of (in)visibilities in their polarity and as they are experienced simultaneously.