logo logo

Migrants from the South, the contemporary faces of exclusion and marginalization

Autor: Guillermo Castillo
(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)

"Many people from here [the United States] believe that we are leaving by choice and that we want to take their jobs and benefits. But no, we leave as a necessity, because where we come from [Central America] life is very difficult, there is too much poverty and violence. And if they knew what you have to go through to get here, suffering assaults, aggressions and not knowing if you’re going to arrive. No one protects us, it’s as if we didn’t exist. It is hard seeing that there are so many of us and that many are left on the road.." — Juan, a migrant in transit, March, 2015.

Migrants, exiles from an indifferent and exclusionary global world

Today’s migrations, as macro international displacements of hundreds of thousands of people with or without documents — in many cases in precarious conditions of transit — have been and are one of the social processes that characterize what is happening in different latitudes of the earth since in the new century, in the global context of neoliberal economic restructuring directed by transnational enterprises and the capitalist countries of the first world [1]. This affirmation has its correlation in the statistics of international bodies and shows how the drastic and substantive spatial re-accommodations of human populations are tied to globalization, both due to the complex socioeconomic processes of accumulation and concentration of capital in the developed nation States — which attract migrants as workers — as well as the dynamics of pillage, exploitation and conflict in developing countries — that expel their inhabitants and condemn them to exile [2].

In fact, the World Bank has recently affirmed that, at the end of 2015, there were 250 million migrants in the world, who send to their families – either in their places of origin or elsewhere — approximately 600 billion dollars; some 441 billion of which is sent to developing countries [3]. According to data from this entity, a considerable part of these migrants come from a compact group of countries — India, Mexico, Russia, China and Bangladesh — and they go to certain poles of economic activity and commercial power — the United States, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Russia and the Arab Emirates [4]. Moreover, particularly in America and specifically in the region that that starts in the centre and extends to the north of the continent, at least since the beginnings of the past decade there is a flow of mobility of persons coming from several countries of Central America — mainly Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – who, in very adverse conditions and with no guarantee of security, travel to the United States, passing through Mexico as a country of transit [5].

Central America, origin of a massive and dramatic exodus: seeking a denied present

This migration presents a series of characteristics that the WB describes as a complex process of relocation, a corollary and product of political inequality and economic asymmetry between nation States with varying levels of development in the region — the United States in one extreme with the greatest power, Mexico as a transit country, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as the beginning of the exodus. Among the features that characterize this experience of mobility, they underline that it is a displacement towards the north with more than a decade of history, that is often related not only to material shortage and precarious living conditions in their places of origin, but also to contexts of physical violence and the risk of life itself, as are the cases of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala [6].

On the other hand, some of these migrants, the few fortunate ones who manage to pass through Mexico, cross the border and engage in manual "unqualified" labour in the United States, fulfill the functions of an army of cheap and disposable labour, that increases the profits of US businessmen and stimulates a greater accumulation of capital, inasmuch as they reduce the costs of production of goods and lower the costs of reproduction of the material conditions of existence for these exploited workers. Far from decreasing, year after year this migration continues, is consolidated and involves dozens or hundreds of thousands of Central Americans. According to data from the Secretaría de Gobernación of the Mexican State from the end of 2015, it is estimated that in somewhat less than one year approximately 300 thousand people attempted to cross Mexico to come to the United States and that the Mexican National Institute of Migration detained almost 200 thousand migrants, of whom 90% were Central Americans [7]. In this way, looking at a broader time frame, over the past fifteen years hundreds of thousands of Central Americans in transit through Mexico have suffered, at the hands of a variety criminal groups and state security forces, thousands of crimes that go from threats, abuse of authority, assault, extortion, intimidation, injuries, theft, illegal deprivation of liberty, kidnapping, bribery, and even human trafficking, sexual abuse, sexual violence and homicides. We should note that among the most vulnerable groups of migrants are women and children.

A reading in greater depth that transcends the smoke curtain of appearances leads us to see this situation in another way. In an exercise to look for what is behind this complex scenario, one has to note that within the structural framework of this migration are the absence of development and material scarcity — as historical causes —, poverty and the lack of opportunities of a decent present and a reasonably hopeful future; but also wars, armed conflicts and other contexts of harsh and constant violence, such as persecution, threats, aggression by criminal organizations and gangs.

The grueling itineraries and risky journeys of these migrants constitute an unquestionable account of the outstanding debts and promises of these displaced Central Americans, in their countries and societies of origin, transit and destiny. This is a constant demonstration of how, in the case of migrants, the rule of law and the normative-juridical systems are written on paper but not translated into practice. In the place of origin — Central America — the acute lack of rights to security, socio-economic development, work and the guarantees for a life without violence and risk. In transit — during their run through Mexico — the absence of respect for life, access to justice and physical integrity. And, finally, in their destination, if they do get to the United States, respect for their human and labour rights, the right not to be exploited nor discriminated against. Migration has become a painful and dramatic metaphor of forced uprooting, of an obligatory flight in order to try to survive, but also of the indifference and public disdain for the marginalized and excluded.

What does migration hide: how to survive in adversity?

In this context, migration reflects the enormous paradox that nation States – those of origin, but also those of transit and destiny — before attending to the needs of migrants, prioritize and privilege the interests and desires of other social subjects and other nation States. For example, in the case of undocumented migrants — from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — the Mexican State, rather than looking at the Central American exodus as a humanitarian and refugee problem, attends to the demands of security and border control of the federal government of the United States. In this way, they neglect the needs of these forced migrants.

The Central American migrants cannot, and should not be seen as a border or security problem — in the context of the juridical-geographic limits between two or more nation States — nor as obstacles to mechanisms of political and administrative control. A perspective that examines migration with its diverse and complex facets has to take on the consideration of human groups in precarious situations and risk, the issue of refugees, the question of forced expulsions and exile. Behind the footsteps of these migrants there are vulnerable and violated human beings: women suffering aggression, landless peasants with no future, children with no family, unemployed people from urban or rural areas, persons threatened and persecuted by criminal groups, and the long list could continue.

In the framework of a globalized economy supported and defended by multinational corporations and the capitalist countries of the first world, migration is the reflection of an overwhelming paradox and contradiction: while on the one hand they stimulate and applaud the free and fluid circulation of money and material goods, on the other, the transit and entry of persons — who need work and a different life — is restricted, regulated, controlled, punished and criminalized.

(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)


[1] “Migración internacional de campesinos mexicanos a Estados Unidos: entre las carencias histórico-estructurales y la ausencia de derechos”, Revista Margen, No 75, December 2014, Revista de Trabajo Social y Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad de Buenos Aires.

[2] “Entre la marginación y la resistencia. Migrantes: los “ausentes explotados” y las artes de la subsistencia”, Rebelión, September 26 2014.

[3] “Record de 250 millones de migrantes en el mundo este año: BM”, La Jornada, December 18 2014.

[4] idem.

[5] idem.

[6] “Niños migrantes centroamericanos: indiferencia e incomodidad estatales”, Contralínea No 427, March 8 2015.

[7] Martínez Fabiola, “Cifra record de migrantes detenidos en México”, La Jornada, December 27 2015.

 source: Alai