Wanted Workers but Unwanted Mothers: Mobilizing Moral Claims on Migrant Care Workers' Families in Israel

Adriana Kemp*, Nelly Kfir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Literature on global care work deals with biopolitical tensions between care markets and exclusionary migration regimes leading to the formation of transnational families. Nevertheless, it disregards how these tensions produce "illegal" families within countries of destination, catalyzing the mobilization of moral claims over their recognition in the local civil society. To fill this lacuna, this article looks at the interface between migration policies controlling the reproductive lives of migrant care workers and the mobilization of ethical claims and moral constructions of care from below (i.e., movements and organizations advocating for care workers). Based on fieldwork in Israeli advocacy NGOs and the 2009 anti-deportation campaign, we suggest that the sociolegal position of migrant care workers' families in destination countries is shaped not only by state policies and market dynamics but also by the types of social mobilizations, ethical evaluations, and pragmatic strategizing they spur in civil society. Findings show that while anti-deportation networks and NGO's advocacy succeeded in achieving public recognition of the reproductive needs and lives of care workers, their forms of moral reasoning and strategizing reinforced definitions of care workers as primarily workers and of their children as humanitarian exceptions to the non-immigration regime. We conclude by arguing that the transformative power of the politics of ethical claims from below in stringent ethnonational regimes like the Israeli may be contingent on its not disrupting the tensions between wanted workers and unwanted families but rendering them manageable. As such, civil society's social and moral agency broadens the range of actors and dynamics shaping the globalization of care as well as its contradictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-394
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • biopolitics
  • ethical politics of care
  • global care work
  • illegal families
  • reproduction


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