Latino Immigrants and Rural Gentrification: Race, “Illegality,” and Precarious Labor Regimes in the United States

Lise Nelson, Laurie Trautman, Peter B. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


This article examines the emergence of immigrant-based precarious labor regimes in U.S. rural areas undergoing gentrification. Drawing on field-based research in rural Georgia and Colorado, we explore how Latino and Latina immigrant workers were recruited to places that had been largely off the map of Latino immigrant settlement prior to the late 1990s to work in service and construction employment stimulated by gentrification. We trace evolving recruitment and labor practices that drew on hierarchies of race and “illegality” to fundamentally improve the productivity and profitability of gentrification-linked sectors. Key to this process was the active recruitment of Latino workers in the 1990s and early 2000s (usually recruited off subcontracted crews hired out from distant metropolitan areas) and the establishment of personal relations of loyalty and dependence between those workers and their white bosses. Over time, these personal relationships often produced informal labor brokers for business owners, brokers who facilitated access to immigrant networks necessary for further recruitment of immigrant workers and critical to producing the high degree of flexibility and discipline that began to characterize these emerging labor regimes. Our analysis makes two key theoretical contributions. First, by exploring how precarious labor regimes become instantiated into rural spaces we decenter the urban in our understanding of these regimes as theorized by Theodore and others. Second, we highlight the importance of attending to the imbrication of class, race, and “illegality” in rural gentrification research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-858
Number of pages18
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 4 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Latino immigration
  • migration
  • precarious labor
  • rural gentrification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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