Documenting the Human Costs of the U.S. Security-State, Part 2

This post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd. #AmAnth17

This year’s theme of “Anthropology Matters!” is a call to action that our authors and the Press are proud to support.

Deborah Boehm
Sarah Horton

Authors Deborah Boehm (Returned) and Sarah Horton (They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fieldsshare their thoughts on Anthropology in Unseen Spaces, sharing thoughts on the fate of Latino immigrants due U.S. policies on policing, detention, and deportation.

Earlier this week, as part of their AAA session on Detained on Trumped-Up Charges: Migrants and the Ascendant U.S. Security-State, they focused on various aspects, including how “[m]assive raids in immigrant neighborhoods and workplaces, the apprehension of DACAmented students—often out of retaliation for their speaking out—and the deportations of long-term residents not previously deemed priorities for ‘removal’ have spread anxiety and panic throughout immigrant communities.”

In Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation, Deborah Boehm shares the social effects that migrant Latinos undergo when they return to their homeland, either by choice or by force:

In a conversation about my research on deportation, a friend from the city of Zacatecas—an urban Zacatecano—made an observation that has stayed with me as I have witnessed and tried to make sense of migrants’ experiences of return and being returned. My friend remarked, almost in passing, that the migrants I work with are “ciudadanos perdidos, ” or lost citizens, and then he repeated a refrain I have often heard in my research with migrants, typically from migrants themselves: “No son de aquí ni de allá  [They are from neither here nor there].” When I asked why he chose this specific word—lost —to describe his fellow citizens, he replied that return migrants are not fully part of either country, excluded from the United States but not entirely Mexican. “Of course, they are my paisanos  [fellow nationals],” he explained, “but their lives are very different from mine. It is difficult to know what will become of them.”

While this sentiment of being “from neither here nor there” has framed my ongoing research with migrant communities, “lost citizens” is a category of alienation that signals a new global order of injustice. We do not all have equal access to citizenship and membership in particular nations. We do not all have the same chances to move across borders. As the world becomes a more connected place for some, the disconnections, barriers, and spaces of exclusion grow for most. This label “lost citizens,” like the many categories explored throughout the book, is shifting and relational. My friend seemed to understand this, identifying with migrants as members of the nation but also recognizing the deep divide of experience that separates them.

So, are deportees, returnees, and their family members in fact “lost citizens”? In the sense that their membership is compromised in the nations in which they live, yes, this is certainly the case. So I wonder if these migrants are lost citizens or rather those who have suffered loss, including a kind of “lost citizenship” or absence of full membership.They have lost, or never had—sometimes even in those nations they consider home—the full right to citizenship. Those affected by return are lost citizens in this sense, or perhaps lost citizens might be more aptly understood as those who lose in an era of global movement. The age of deportation is marked by social injustice and striking inequality as subjects move and do not move—forcibly or not, despite and because of state power—across national boundaries throughout the world.

Read the previous part of Documenting the Human Costs of the U.S. Security-State. And learn about the physical and psychological stress that U.S. immigration policies inflict on Latino migrants from Sarah Horton’s They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields.


Documenting the Human Costs of the U.S. Security-State, Part 1

This post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd. #AmAnth17

We are so glad to be in attendance again at AAA. This year’s theme of “Anthropology Matters!” is a call to action that we—alongside our authors—have always embraced. Anthropology will always help us make sense of the past, explore our present, and journey through our future.

Deborah Boehm
Sarah Horton

This year, authors Deborah Boehm (Returned) and Sarah Horton (They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields) share their thoughts on Anthropology in Unseen Spaces, discussing the fate of Latino immigrants due to policing, detention, and deportation policies in the U.S. They note that, “Anthropologists have a central role to play in uncovering and understanding state power but also the social movements that challenge it.”

In They Leave Their Kidneys in the Field: Illness, Injury, and Illegality among U.S. Farmworkers, Sarah Horton discusses the physical and psychological stress that these policies inflict on Latino migrants:

The Everyday Violence of Being a Legal Minority

While recent studies of chronic stress and cardiovascular disease have focused specifically on racial minorities, the findings are suggestive for other minority groups that also face chronic, pervasive stress.. Many researchers observe that being a legal minority—that is, an undocumented migrant or a migrant with tenuous legal status—may provoke unprecedented anticipatory stress and chronic worry in the current anti-migrant climate.  Cecilia Menjívar and Leisy Abrego’s analysis of legal violence focuses on how it exerts material effects on migrants’ schooling, family life, and employment.  Complementing their analysis, this chapter explores on the subjective and physiological effects of such legal violence.

Rogelio Sáenz and colleagues point out that a climate of increasing hostility toward migrants in the United States affects their psychological (and presumably physiological) health. They show that the passage of Arizona’s “Show Me Your Papers” law in 2010  caused distress and anxiety even among migrants in neighboring states.  They compare the micro-aggressions with which undocumented migrants contend to the “racial battle fatigue” that racial and ethnic minorities experience. Similarly, in her study of eighteen return migrants at a public psychiatric hospital in Oaxaca, Whitney Duncan found that all but two attributed their mental illness to the migration experience—in particular its “solitude, discrimination, [and] unremitting anxiety and stress.” Most of her sample had never experienced mental health problems prior to leaving for the United States. In the current anti-migrant climate, legal minority status may also lead to perpetual vigilance. Like being “Black,” being “illegal” or tenuously legal may result in hyperarousal—the chronic perception of the body’s being under attack.

Stay tuned later this week when we share Deborah Boehm thoughts on the psychological and social tolls of a migrant returning to their home country as a “lost citizen” in Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation.

And attend the AAA session on Detained on Trumped-Up Charges: Migrants and the Ascendant U.S. Security-State.

Skills of the “Unskilled”

By Jacqueline Hagan, co-author of Skills of the “Unskilled”: Work and Mobility among Mexican Migrants

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago.Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 

Which fallacies surrounding “unskilled” migrant workers do you especially seek to dispel through your book? 

Each year tens of thousands of international migrants with little schooling or formal credentials migrate to the United States and labor in industries and occupations upon which much of the U.S economy rests. Dominant theories of migration, labor, and human capital have largely ignored the experiences of skill acquisition and labor market mobility of these migrants, who are quickly categorized under the shorthand “unskilled” and deemed to be trapped in dead-end occupations at the bottom of the labor market. Needless to say, many of these migrants face exploitative conditions, legal uncertainty and receive inadequate compensation for their work. While numerous critical contributions to the scholarly literature have described and analyzed these precarious work conditions, in this book we have taken up the task of challenging the notion that migrants with low levels of formal education are “unskilled” and experience little or no economic mobility in their work and migration careers. We dispel the fallacy of the unskilled migrant by identifying the skills they acquire throughout their lives and across countries and social contexts—what we call lifelong human capital. We then identify mobility pathways associated with the acquisition and transfer of technical and social skills across the migratory circuit, including reskilling, occupational mobility, job jumping (brincando), and business formation.

9780520283732What implications do your findings have for future migration policy, in both the U.S. and Mexico?

Our findings have implications for the migration policies of both the United States and Mexico. There is a fundamental mismatch in current U.S. immigration policy that gives preference to “skilled” who rank high on traditional human capital attributes, such as years of formal schooling, and restricts the entry of “low-skilled “ migrants, a classification that ignores the high level of informal skills and working knowledge they bring to labor markets, especially in industries such as construction that have been partially vacated by the native born but traditionally characterized as very skilled. And while the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform has temporarily closed some opportunities to bring attention to the skills that so called “unskilled” migrants bring to U.S. labor markets, we believe our work, especially the skills classification scheme we developed and feature in our book, can inform the efforts of migrant advocacy groups, economic and social justice organizations and foundations, and bi-national institutions dedicated to workforce development and migrant and worker rights.

We also contend that similar programs can be implemented in Mexico to recognize and take advantage of the skills migrants bring with them upon return. Sizeable return flows are a long and persistent characteristic of the Mexico-U.S. migratory system. The great recession, stepped up enforcement, and a policy of mass deportations have impacted patterns of return migration to Mexico. While target earners might have decided to weather the recession and prolong their stay abroad, many others had no choice but to return due to forced removal by U.S. authorities or fear of incarceration. Although return migration declined between 2006 and 2010, the number of those removed from the United States increased significantly. During this period, approximately 1.2 million Mexicans were removed from the United States. According to Mexico’s census data, nearly one million individuals had returned home between 2005 and 2010. The Mexican federal government has a long history of building programs to serve Mexicans abroad, facilitate their social integration and encourage their remittances. In this context, it is notable that the Mexican government has not developed policies to reintegrate returning migrants to local and regional labor markets and to harness the skills acquired in the United States and transferred back home. Our research suggests that the Mexican government would be well served by supporting self-employment ventures and reintegration programs that recognize the enhanced skill sets of return migrants. For example, Mexico’s federal and state authorities could jointly develop employment information centers to screen return migrants, identify skills and match them with potential employers.

Through researching for Skills of the “Unskilled”, were you able to discover any areas you would be interested in exploring in the future?

Lingering research questions remain. Will those return migrants who have successfully transferred skills stay in Mexico? Will these return migrants continue to experience mobility within the Mexican labor market, especially in pronounced pattern of business formation? If so, what are implication of return migration and business formation for local development? Will those who acquired new skills in the United States but were not able to successfully transfer them back home be compelled to emigrate again? To tease out these complex questions, we returned to Guanajuato in summer, 2015, five years after we implemented our survey, with an eye towards understanding how family, life cycle processes, labor markets, and state and local institutions have shaped the lives of the return migrants and how they in turn have shaped their local economies. Once we have analyzed the data, we plan on drafting an epilogue to a new edition of “Skills of the “Unskilled:” Work and Mobility among Mexican Migrants. Stay tuned for the update!

Jacqueline Maria Hagan is Robert G. Parr Distinguished Term Professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research interests include international migration, labor markets, gender, religion, and human rights. She is author of Deciding to Be Legal and Migration Miracle.

Susan Terrio on What Life Is Like for Migrant Children

Susan Terrio’s research on the unaccompanied children in U.S. immigration custody has led her to places few others witness. The Office of Refugee Resettlement granted Terrio rare access to 20 federal facilities and six foster-care facilities between 2009 and 2012, where she conducted in-depth interviews with 40 formerly detained young migrants.

In this piece for Politico, she presents rare interviews with the children of America’s border disaster:

Consider the case of Ernesto. He told me he fled horrific abuse in Honduras and migrated with two friends, hitching rides and traveling by foot through Guatemala and Mexico. They avoided cargo trains because people can fall off them and die. “I mean, you just don’t care about the odds or you wouldn’t do it,” Ernesto says of his journey. “How did I decide? It was the American Dream.” Ernesto worked his way north until he was seized by members of the Zetas cartel outside a Mexican border town. He was starved and beaten, while the Zetas extorted $4,000 from his family back home. He escaped, but three companions were killed when they balked at the cartel’s demands.

Carlita, a 13-year-old Salvadoran girl, fled gang violence. She told me she was also kidnapped by the Zetas in Mexico, used for sex and forced to be a drug mule for them, before escaping and ultimately making it to the border. Carlos, who grew up on a small Salvadoran coffee plantation, fled the country at age 15 after being abused by his father. He hitchhiked and walked his way to the U.S.-Mexico border and joined six migrants, with whom he crossed the Rio Grande River at night. A pregnant woman in the group was swept away and drowned. The others made it but were surrounded by Border Patrol agents within minutes.

Susan Terrio’s forthcoming book from UC Press, Whose Child Am I? Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody will be released in May 2015.

Nicole Constable Launches Her Book in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a meeting place for migrant domestic workers, traders, refugees, asylum seekers, tourists, businessmen, and local residents. In Born Out of Place: Migrant Mothers and the Politics of International Labor, Nicole Constable looks at the experiences of Indonesian and Filipina women in this Asian world city.

Constable recently held a book launch for Born Out of Place at Kelly & Walsh bookstore in Hong Kong. Watch a video from the reading below: