New Drivers of Migration

Framing a new paradigm: Central America-Mexico-U.S. migration in a context of violence and exclusion 


Beginning in the 1980s, the discussion of unauthorized migration centered on economic development policies, labor market needs, and the struggle for economic survival. Now those old paradigms are being superceded by a new reality. Much migration in the North American Corridor is now due to flight from violent criminal organizations operating within weakened or corrupt state structures. When persons fleeing violence attempt to cross borders to find safety, they are met by exclusionary attitudes within the U.S. and Mexican governments, despite optimism that Mexico may change its current policies regarding Central American migrants and asylum seekers. Activists and academics who work on migration and the rights of migrants and asylum seekers need a new vocabulary to describe the current reality. The Pozen Center has dedicated resources to support the beginnings of a cross-sectoral, cross-border, interdisciplinary discussion on the model of the 2003-2005 Activists Roundtable on Migration, Human Rights, and Development. 

Research Questions

What are the major factors governing unauthorized migration in the so-called “North American Corridor”?  And how have those factors changed in the past decade?  Criminal cartels have territorial control in many areas of Mexico and Central America.  Their threats and violence against local authorities and ordinary citizens are a primary driver of unauthorized migration in the region.  How does this situation require adaptation of advocates’ proposals for social policies which would enable potential migrants to stay home (“the right to not migrate”)?   

The restoration of the protection of human rights, the rule of law, and economic & personal security in this region is a long-term project. Unauthorized migration/ forced migration is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, despite some analysts’ findings of “zero net migration” from Mexico to the U.S. Therefore, advocates need to propose a counter-narrative to the exclusionist and racist immigration policies gaining ground in the U.S.  How do global exclusionist trends against unauthorized migration impact our region?  Does the U.N. process towards a Global Compact on Migration support such a counter-narrative? 

Our promotion of small-scale entrepreneurship to replace agriculture employment and our support for living wages in tourism and in industries promoted by foreign-direct investments are relevant. However those solutions are only a partial panacea for undocumented emigration. At this moment, we need to admit that violence is the key driver of migration in the region. What ought to be our research agendas? What does the transnational NGO/ civil society community which advocates for the human rights of migrants in the North American corridor need in terms of research to support their work? Will it be possible to influence some policy-makers in the U.S. (likely at the local or state level) or with the new government in Mexico? 

Participating Faculty

University of Chicago: Susan Gzesh (The College), Angela Garcia (SSA), Yanilda González (SSA), Emilio Kouri (History), and Ben Lessing (Political Science); 

University of Illinois-Chicago: Andreas Feldmann (Political Science, Latin American & Latino Studies), Xochitl Bada (Sociology and LALS), and Helena Olea (Criminal Justice and LALS);

Colegio de Mexico: Silvia Giorgiuli, President/Demographer

Universidad de Guadalajara: Jorge Durand, Anthropology