Sarah Bronwen Horton

Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Denver
Areas of Expertise:
  • Immigration
  • Jobs & Workers
  • Unions & the Labor Movement

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About Sarah

Horton researches how U.S. labor laws and immigration policies affect immigrant farmworkers by using ethnographic methods, or intensive immersion in immigrant communities and interviews. This methodology gives her an insider’s perspective on how immigrant farmworkers’ strategies for getting health care and employment, as well as the reasons behind farmworkers’ poor health outcomes. Horton has worked with California Rural Legal Assistance and United Farmworkers in California, and with immigrant advocacy organizations in Denver, Colorado.


"Medical Returns: Seeking Healthcare in Mexico" (with Stephanie Cole). Social Science & Medicine 72, no. 11 (2011): 1846-1852.

Explains Mexican immigrants’ dissatisfaction with the U.S. health care system from the perspective of those who seek health care on the border, illustrating the contrast from their experiences with health care in Mexico. 

"Debating ‘Medical Citizenship:’ Policies Shaping Immigrants’ Learned Avoidance of the U.S. Health Care System" in Hidden Lives and Human Rights in the United States: Understanding the Controversies and Tragedies in Undocumented Immigration, edited by Lois A. Lorentzen (ABC-CLIO, 2014), 297-320.

Discusses why undocumented immigrants often avoid the U.S. health care system, as well as the way that U.S. policies jeopardize the health of such immigrants’ citizen children.

"Identity Loan: The Moral Economy of Migrant Document Exchange in California’s Central Valley" American Ethnologist 42, no. 1 (2015): 55-67.

Argues that many migrant farmworkers exchange work authorization documents in immigrant communities, and that this practice leads to the disproportionate benefit of legal residents and U.S. citizens.

"From ‘Deportability’ to ‘Denounce-ability:’ New Forms of Labor Subordination in an Era of Governing Immigration through Crime" Political and Legal Anthropology Review (forthcoming).

Argues that supervisors in large agribusiness companies avoid federal immigration law by making their undocumented employees work under the documents of others, thereby making them invisible to state and federal authorities. Explains that changes in immigration laws allow such workers to be prosecuted for “identity theft,” which in turn may lead not only to their deportation but to extended bars on their legal re-entry.

"Ghost Workers: The Implications of Governing Immigration through Crime for Migrant Workplaces" Anthropology of Work Review 37, no. 1 (2016): 11-23.

Argues that many employers in agriculture evade labor and immigration laws by forcing farmworkers to work the Social Security cards and green cards or passports of other people, complicating one-sided portrayals of “identity theft” in immigrant-dominated workplaces.

They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields: Injury, Illness, and Illegality among U.S. Farmworkers (University of California Press, 2016).

Documents in detail how U.S. immigration, labor, health care, disability and food policies converge to lead to premature death among migrant farmworkers - both inside and outside the fields.

In the News

Guest to discuss identity loans on Public News Service, Sarah Bronwen Horton, December 19, 2016.
"Rethinking Arizona’s Identity Theft Laws," Sarah Bronwen Horton, Huffington Post, May 23, 2016.
Sarah Bronwen Horton quoted on the ghost status of undocumented farmworkers in Ana Campoy, "Immigrant “Ghost Workers” are Lining Their Bosses’ Pockets in a Whole New Way" Quartz, June 30, 2016.
"The Hole in Trump’s Wall," Sarah Bronwen Horton, Huffington Post, September 9, 2016.
Interview on employers forcing undocumented employees to work under false identitiesSarah Bronwen Horton, Valley Public Radio, July 5, 2016.
Sarah Bronwen Horton's research on identity masking discussed in "Researcher Finds 'Ghost Workers' Common in Migrant Farm Work," Science Codex, June 28, 2016.
"Equal Overtime Rules Could Save Lives," Sarah Bronwen Horton, San Diego Union Tribune, April 8, 2016.
"Legal Citizens Are Healthy Citizens," Sarah Bronwen Horton (with Miguel Arias), Fresno Bee, June 11, 2006.
Sarah Bronwen Horton quoted on access to health care for illegal workers in Kevin Sack, "Illegal Farmworkers Get Health Care in the Shadows" New York Times, May 10, 2008.
"A View from the Border," Sarah Bronwen Horton, Denver Post, May 9, 2010.