Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 328 | Noviembre 2008


Central America

Deportees Have no Papers or Rights, Only Borders

Excluded in the countries of the South, rejected in those of the North, deportees are excess population, the globalized system’s rejects… While they may have no papers, they do have life projects. Denied their rights, such migrants are developing a form of resistance that allows them to defend those rights with a new awareness. How long will borders be used to try to block South-North migration?

José Luis Rocha

When workers leave their municipality, departdepartment or province of birth for another in their same country where they have greater opportunities of getting work, politicians, economists, sociologists and development experts applaud vigorously. They call it “reducing frictional unemployment.” But if it occurs to workers to keep going, beyond those imaginary lines called borders, they become fugitives and are accused of blemishing sovereignty and undermining governance.

That’s how Mauricio Antonio López, a 31-year-old deportee from the poor Managuan neighborhood of San Judas sees it: “Many of us left the country with hope, thinking things would go better for us outside our own land. But that’s a mistake… because once you touch foreign land, particularly if it’s in Mexico, you become a fugitive of justice without even committing a crime, just for having crossed a border.”

Do borders still make sense?

Borders still have an emotional charge that becomes high voltage at certain historical moments. They are extremely sensitive political nerves that surround imaginary communities governed by nation-states and delimit the scope of those states’ power to control populations and impose norms on their interactions. Communities demarcated by border lines must function as a whole that is comprehensible in and of itself.

For methodological purposes an attempt is still made to calculate productive, commercial and intellectual activities within a territory. Every egg laid in a national henhouse is treated as a unit of analysis. That’s why notions such as gross national product, national exports, foreign investment and many others still underpin the categories that Central Banks doggedly use in estimates that ignore the reality of financial systems, industries and telecommunications dominated by transnational corporations. Methodological nationalism resists recognizing that many companies break down their productive, administrative, commercial and publicity processes to distribute them in countries with lower costs and risks. The message inviting passengers in Berlin airport to board their midnight flight is sent by a secretary in a New York office. Avoiding overtime costs knows no borders. Unscrupulous businesspeople have designed borderless businesses that “cleanly” elude certain labor legislation requirements and defy the calculation of added value, distribution of benefits and payment of taxes.

In The Age of Access, Jeremy Rifkin speaks of the challenge of what he describes as the transition from an economy in which success is measured in physical capital to one in which it is increasingly measured in terms of control over ideas in the form of intangible intellectual capital that is already undermining consensual accounting practices. Traditional accounting procedures, designed as part of the methodological nationalism model, worked better in economies that mainly produced and traded physical products that were exchanged between buyers and sellers and crossed borders. They don’t make as much sense in economies where the exchange of goods is less important than sharing access to services whose invention, distribution, billing and enjoyment over-fly borders.

Massive migratory flows
across ever more porous borders

Many businesses operate largely in electronic spaces that levitate above any jurisdiction. The porosity of borders isn’t totally new. Culturally it has led to hilarious disputes, such as the attempt to establish whether that combination of rice and beans known as gallopinto is Nicaraguan or Costa Rican, or whether the song “El pitero” is Honduran, Salvadoran or Nicaraguan. Among other things, globalization consists of an increase in porosity, making society less easy to regulate and less nationally comprehensible.

Migrations are inscribed within this dynamic of porous borders, transnationalism and the decline of the national perspective. So where do we situate the strict migratory controls and deportations that some governments are enforcing so massively as their most visible migratory policy?

More than any other factor, deportations have added two new categories to the condition nations acquire through their relationship to migratory flows. Mechanically repeating formulas coined with bureaucratic neatness, the references until now have been to countries of origin, transit and destination. Deportations have added countries of expulsion and return. And given that voluntary returns are presumed insignificant compared to forced expulsions, the countries of origin are turning into national prisons in which millions of disqualified workers are confined. Just in the past 17 years (1990-2007) the US government sent more than 24 million immigrants back to their countries of origin. How do we understand this blockade of migratory labor flows in the age of border porosity for capital?

When migrants are seen as
stubborn, irrational people

There are various visions of deportees and deportations, three of which express contrasting viewpoints based on what are assumed to be the “same facts.” But given that facts are never the same if addressed from distinct conceptual frameworks, analyzing these theoretical proposals obliges us to reveal the system of values underlying their version of “the facts.”

In the first place we have the viewpoint that could be called decaffeinated, well-disposed toward the system, an epistemological debtor of that conceptualization of individual rational choices that saturates neoclassic economics and liberal philosophy. Its version of the facts might go so far as to speak of regionalized and globalized labor markets, but banks above all on a secure, ordered mobility to which all migrants, men and women, must adapt. Those who see things this way can recognize a minimum amount of human rights, but resist embracing an absolute universality.

The more open-minded variant of this vision insists on equal rights between citizens and non-citizens, but would never defend a global vision that encompasses the meaning of this segregation, its systemic economic causes and socio-cultural consequences. Its most repressive variant puts national sovereignty as the ultimate principle and govern-ability of migrations as its maximum concession.

These currents reached a compromise solution in the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the United Nations’ most important legal instrument on migrant human rights. It recognizes very significant rights for all migrants, but establishes a clear distinction between documented and undocumented migrants and the rights applied to each category. Its language tends to be very official and thus avoids any conflictive edges, or expresses them in terms of administrative dysfunctions. Its solutions, perfectly coupled to what is politically possible and correct, are thus expressed in commissions, visa system reforms, forums and more commissions, temporary migration programs, inter-state dialogues, networks of commissions, amnesties by quota, regional commissions, temporary protection status, logical frameworks, annual operating programs, strategic planning and follow-up systems for the commissions. All this seeks to influence rational individual choices.

To those with this vision, undocumented migrants are unsubmissive and not very rational workers who, with their exaggerated flow and silly mania of not carrying documents, promote disorder and increase the migratory flow beyond the capacity of the labor market of the countries of destination to absorb in a socially governable and recyclable way. According to them, the flow of migrants must be moderate and must be channeled through temporary worker programs, temporary protection statutes and amnesties with thought-through quotas. From this perspective, rebels suffer and will continue suffering the anathema of deportation due to their own obstinacy, ignorance and economic difficulties, as well as their government’s inefficiency.

Receiving and emitting governments—the latter in the hands of foolish, insensitive elites—as well as some United Nations officials, many analysts and the vast majority of policy designers invent, repeat or keep adding chapters to this version of the facts. They are trying to produce ideal migrants who go, then work where, when and as long as they are needed, and ultimately return. Deportees are the product of disorder, hasty actors who end up in ruin. Ordering migrations implies regulating the number and fabricating temporary or circular migrations.

Ideal migrants = circular migrants
with a supposedly win-win-win dynamic

Circular migration is a strategy that the United Nations has attempted to sell to civil society. On July 9, 2007, a day granted to civil society during the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Brussels, Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute in the United States presented a paper titled, “Can migrants, countries of origin and countries of destination all win from circular migration?”

She proposed to define general parameters and present this proposal: circular migration is the main form of migration, especially in West Africa, where it has existed for 50 years. Civil society has many possibilities in this terrain. The practical point is to propose how people can return to their countries of origin. The key question, then, is “What conditions are conducive to permanent, sustainable return of migrants to their countries of origin?” If the migratory process is conducted adequately, a “triple-win” dynamic can be generated: the emitting countries win, the receiving countries win and the migrants win.

With circular migration, the countries of destination benefit from more available labor, coverage of jobs that are unattractive to the natives and reduction of bosses’ labor obligations, not to mention the fact that the workers won’t claim their social security as they won’t be staying until retirement. The migrants win from circular migration because they maintain family contacts, satisfy financial needs and take advantage of the links between the two countries.

Babel is this vision’s nightmare

Although Newland favored stressing incentives for migrants to return voluntarily rather than forcing that return as a punitive measure, her pernicious candor—authentic or faked—incited furious reactions from migrants and their organizations participating in the forum.

A French union representative pointed out the absurdity of imposing the language of the country of destiny on the one hand and not allowing them to receive education in their native language on the other. “How can we expect these migrants to feel a desire to return?” he queried. A migrant added, “Why would migrants who have studied, graduated as doctors and worked in well-supplied hospitals with all the equipment you need want to return to their country of origin? Can they imagine themselves back in Mali, where hospitals have no recourses or equipment?”

In general, migrants don’t have the right conditions to return and establish themselves in their country of origin, so they keep migrating and tend to stay in the countries of destination. Xavier Segura, who works for a Spanish confederation of unions whose 400 offices work with and legally advise migrants, argued in the forum that “circular migration seems more like a new system for getting rid of migrants when we don’t need them.” This suspicion was hammered home by members of the Caribbean Association of Peasants and Agricultural Workers: “We tend to debate globally, but these debates don’t take place in many of our countries. Furthermore, migrants don’t appear as people in those debates, but as consumer goods, merchandise. That’s why you can say here: Are workers needed in such a country or region? Fine, we’ll send them. When there’s too many, we propose circular migration.”

And indeed Newland’s concept of circularity is very static. She traces a single circle. A single round trip, then the circle freezes with a presumed definitive return to the country of origin. A more dynamic concept would imply many trips forth and back over the course of the worker’s life.

Her proposal is symptomatic of the strategy that predominates in this version of migrations: migrants have to be created who move in moderate flows so their volume doesn’t freak out the natives and whose innate programming leads them to return to their countries before they become an excess labor force that unravels the social fabric, saturates the labor market and provokes outbursts of xenophobia. This vision’s nightmare is Babel and it’s paradise the world as an accounting ledger with neatly defined assets and liabilities.

When migrants are pieces of
the economic internationalization

There is a second vision. Economic internationalization as an object of analysis has thrown new light on the meaning of deportations. Its perspective is a methodological cosmopolitanism sketched out some time ago by the authors of a prophetic text: “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere and establish connections everywhere.

“Through its exploitation of the world market, the bourgeoisie has given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible….”

This text, which so well describes today’s situation, wasn’t written by Arjun Appadurai, Saskia Sassen, David Harvey, Manuel Castells, Ulrich Beck, Néstor García Canclini or any other expert on globalization, capitalist expansion or second modernity. It is an excerpt from the “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” written by Marx and Engels in 1848, but it describes many of the bases of the thesis sustained by US sociologist Saskia Sassen in her book Globalization and Its Discontents. Essays on the New Mobility of People and Money.

Old controls and regulations
in the new global city

Sassen starts with the evident expansive mobility of capital to reveal the socio-cultural transformations that accompany it. Businesses move, but so do populations. Sassen seeks what Ulrich Beck calls the cosmopolitan perspective and methodological cosmopolitanism. But she does so avoiding the national/global dualism, turning instead for her unit of analysis to what she calls the global city—that space transformed by the interaction of diverse ethnic groups that transnationalize themselves, but where the infrastructure available for large movements of capital continues to be vital.

The huge corporations that locate their operational centers in the global cities need buildings, fiber optics, a specialized labor force, highways and workers with very diverse skills. Important components of globalization are neatly congregated in particular institutional locations linked to national territories, which is why local norms and the state’s action continue to play a role.

Although these corporations are now trying to rule over the internationalized—i.e. globalized, transnationalized, de-nationalized—spaces, local governments maintain an important regulatory role. Without adequate legal systems there wouldn’t be any transnationalism. These global cities attract immigrants. It’s no coincidence that the major economic nodes—New York, Frankfurt, London—are focal points for immigrants who perform services so the headquarters of capital and their professional elites can operate to the full. The global city becomes a space of growing and brutal contrasts between globalized elites and globalized workers.

The contradiction of the new globalized model resides in the fact that while the governments and economic actors of the highly developed countries are producing and implementing new conditions for the transnational economies, the migratory policy in those same countries remains focused on old conceptions of control and regulation. The national state is experiencing globalization as serious restrictions on its authority with respect to universal rights and the regulation of supra-national bodies. The judicial courts and offices of human rights ombudsperson have frequently encouraged family reunification and brought down the barriers erected by the migration departments against those requesting asylum. Stirred up by the lobbying of certain groups in which anti-immigrant sentiments prevail, certain sectors of the state put their energies into re-nationalizing the policies.

The result of this contradiction is migratory policies that lack a cosmopolitan perspective and are infected with lethal ambiguity. Even the international legislation on refugees establishes the right to “leave” as a universal right but remains culpably silent about the right to “enter.”

National migration policies are shaped by an under-standing that immigration is the consequence of a series of individual actions by the immigrants and pay no attention to the fact that migratory flows have patterns: the majority of the immigration to powerful countries comes from countries under their sphere of influence. This fact has been underscored by New York-Puerto Rican journalist Juan González in his book Harvest of Empire. A History of Latinos in America: US immigration is the harvest of decades of imperialism.

Localisms and nationalisms
against economic globalization

Migratory policies haven’t managed to understand migratory flows in the context of the globalization of economic activity, cultural activity and identity formation. Sassen proposes understanding migrations and ethnicity as a gamut of processes in which the global elements are localized, international labor markets are being created and everyone’s culture is being de-territorialized and re-territorialized.

Globalization engenders new notions of community, identity formation and membership. Policies that ignore these processes, attributing all responsibility for migration to the immigrants as individuals, focus on the latter. Encouraged by a reaction against economic globalization, they opt for localism, nationalism and the protection of original identities. In the case of the United States, this re-nationalization of migration policies has been expressed with particular crudeness since the nineties as a tension between state governments and the federal government.

In 1994 six states—Arizona, California, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas—sued the federal government in federal courts, demanding a reimbursement of the costs implied by its failure to apply migration policies and protect the national borders. This failure had increased these states’ costs due to their obligation to provide education and health services even to undocumented migrants with no fiscal compensation. In a context of fiscal cost reductions, the immigrants have been tagged as the cause of increased investment in health, education and penal centers.

Following this line of argument, we can state that deportations and certain limitations on immigrants’ rights—to bring over more relatives, for example—are a federal government reaction to put its house in order. They aim to mitigate the social discontent and pressure by the states by re-nationalizing policies and retreating from a globalization that is distributing the benefits in a hardly satisfactory way. As individuals, the immigrants are paying the cost of systemic attacks resulting from the migration policies’ methodological nationalism.

When migrants are seen as human discards

The third vision, a rather apocalyptic one held by Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, argues that precisely the success of modernity taken to the extreme is beginning to massively produce human discards: “But a hundred years later,” he writes, “it seems that a fatal, possibly the most fatal result of modernity’s global triumph, is the acute crisis of the ‘human waste’ disposal industry, as each new outpost conquered by capitalist markets adds new thousands or millions to the mass of men and women already deprived of their lands, workshops and community safety nets.” The production of human waste is an inseparable companion of modernity and an inescapable secondary effect of the construction of order and economic progress.

Bauman’s position is in marked contrast with that of Sassen: labor markets and the cohort of consumers can dispense with a growing mass of people. He believes that the new “planetary plenitude,” the global reach of modernity, produces “human surplus,” a “superfluous, supernumerary or excessive population,” an “excess of discards from the labor market and those rejected by the market economy,” “out of place,” “unapt” or “undesired” people to a degree that exceeds the capacity of the recycling systems. These human dregs become people with no consumption capacity, unable to lead “a normal life, much less a happy existence.” In our society, that limitation defines them as failed consumers: defective or frustrated consumers expelled from the market. In a consumer society, their condition couldn’t be worse. The essential insecurity of our times is that we all run the risk of becoming undesirable, unapt human dregs.

Many called, few chosen

Liberation theology and other visions about poverty confer a certain dignity on the poor and promise them a leading role as historical subjects in the construction of a better world. But Bauman’s vision of the production of human rejects gives a new and gloomy sense to the gospel statement, “Many are called and few are chosen.”

The media invite everyone to the opulent consumer banquet, but very few are privileged enough to enjoy its succulent dishes. Bauman insists that for the consumer stimulus to be effective, it has to be transmitted in all directions, indiscriminately aimed at all those willing to hear it. But, he adds, many more people can hear it than can respond to the seductive message. And those who cannot are subjected daily to the dazzling spectacle of those who can. Consumption without what he calls “restrictions” is a sign of success, the road to fame and the applause of others.

Bauman adds that even “the admittedly ‘economic migrants (that is people who follow the precept of ‘rational choice’ eulogized by the neoliberal chorus, and so try to find a livelihood where it can be found, rather than staying where there is none) are openly condemned by the same governments that try hard to make ‘flexibility of labor’ the prime virtue of their electorate and that exhort their native unemployed ‘to get on their bikes’ and go where the buyers of labor are.” As they no longer need these people, who thus become a drain on public finances, governments end up dedicating “most of their time and their brain capacity in designing ever more sophisticated ways of fortifying borders and the most expedient procedures for getting rid of seekers after bread and shelter who have managed to cross the borders nevertheless.” To this end borders have been created that function as “asymmetrical membranes.” As Bauman puts it, “they let elements out, but protect against undesired entrance of elements from the other side.”

Expelled from the South, rejected in the North

Migrants go in pursuit of the consumer ethic and find the absurdity of deportation. They look for the loudly proclaimed market opening and receive anathema. They are human residue in their countries of origin and then, as deportees, become residue in the countries of destination. The countries of origin will increasingly become nations of deportees, dumping grounds for the throwaways the North doesn’t want to assimilate. That’s why deportation represents the physical-geographical updating of labor, political and social non-inclusion.

Just as the Mexican tomatoes blamed by the United States for the transmission of salmonella were cut from the free trade agreement, so non-certified migrants are prevented from entering the United States. It is very significant that the term “certified” is applied to vegetables, slabs of beef and migrants. Excess migrants won’t enter the land of Coca Cola and ketchup. Migrants who can’t find their way into Newland’s circular migration agreements are those Bauman identifies as the system’s discards.

The preceding systems—the first modernity—could get rid of their discards by sending them to other places: the Spanish poor of the Renaissance—frequently dubbed criminals—and the 19th-century Irish poor could be recycled in the new world. Local problems had global solutions, but they are outside the reach of the late modernity. Bauman insists that once modernity became “the universal condition of humanity the effects of its planetary dominion have turned against it.”

With “progress” having reached the most remote corners of the planet—with its mercantilization, commercialization and monetarization of human subsistence—there are now no local solutions to global excesses: “The planet’s new plenitude means, essentially, an acute crisis of elimination of human waste.” There are few dumping grounds or instruments for recycling the residue. As globalization involves enormous population displacements, it has become an assembly line producing residual human beings. The immigrants are throwaways in their countries of origin. If they are deported, they are totally certified throwaways.

Bauman agrees with Sassen that the immigrants don’t have individual responsibility. They are moved by systemic forces. Sassen sees them as predominately centripetal forces: the great metropolises attract. Bauman, on the other hand, views them as centrifugal forces: cities and rural towns of the North and South have an expelling effect. Deportees face doubly negative forces: expelled in the South, rejected in the North.

Modernity has a very different sense in the versions of these two authors. Sassen believes that modernity—the global city—needs the immigrants’ abundant labor and low salaries, but that this clashes with the nationalist sense of the migration policies, which respond to re-nationalizing reactions unleashed by globalization and generate a movement to block the flow of migrants. Bauman and Appadurai, who will be quoted later, allow us to go deeper into Sassen’s thesis, whose consistency invites complemen-tation. Bauman’s dramatic narrative insists that a growing number of human beings aren’t needed anywhere. His penetrating analysis could be nuanced with a more open, non-defeatist ending. Attention needs to be paid to the growing volume of these human discards and to the place that Latin Americans in general, and Central Americans in particular, occupy in that legion.

“Hispanics are its panic”

Between 1892 and 2007 the US government “returned” or “removed” nearly 50 million immigrants, almost a sixth of its current population, not including those who failed to enter or weren’t captured. And as mentioned above, almost exactly half of that number was deported in the last 17 years.

Latin Americans nearly monopolize the deportees, accounting for 98.56% of all deportations in 2007. Mexicans made up 88.92% of that total, Central Americans 7.76%, and those from the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean the remaining 1.9%.

Among those who obtained permanent residence in the United States in that same year, Central Americans represented 5%, compared to 19% for Mexicans and 39% for all other Latin Americans. The “migra” officials were not so generous in handing out residency as they were in packing up migrants and returning them to their countries of origin. This adverse skew in the US migratory policies confirms that fear of Latinos is gaining strength in that country: Hispanics are its panic.

The increased deportation of Central Americans in the past eight years confirms this panic. This is demonstrated in the chart below, which shows that 2005 was the most productive year for deportations.

Mexico: The vertical border

Mexico, that long filter with its vertical border, has been even more forceful in deporting people than the United States. One measure of the efficient service it has provided to US migration can be calibrated in the following figures: while the US National Security Department deported 472,956 Central Americans—Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans—between 2001 and 2007, the Mexican migration police detained and deported 1,128,256 citizens of the same four countries. For each Guatemalan deported by “la migra gringa,” its Aztec partner deported 4.6. So far in 2008, 45.3% of all deportees from Mexico were Guatemalans, 34.4% were Hondurans, 15.4% Salva-dorans and only 1.7% Nicaraguans.

As was true for the United States, 2005 was also the peak year for the deportation of Central Americans from Mexico: more than 226,000 Guatemalans, Hondurans, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. The migrant flow has very probably diminished in recent years due to the application of restrictive measures in the United States and the serious threats faced in Mexico: the Zetas—former military and now mercenaries working for the Gulf Cartel—as well as extortion, rape, murder, poisoning, etc. In general, the United States has been very effective in blocking migration each time it has set out to do so.

Honduras is the country most affected by deportations, followed by El Salvador and Guatemala. But deportations shouldn’t be viewed in isolation: attention must be paid to other figures that are also the fallout of migration policies. Salvadorans have benefited most from the concession of permanent residence and citizenship, partly because of their enormous migratory flow and partly because of the Salvadoran government’s more proactive migration policy: lobbying of the US government, the ubiquity of its consulates, the informational services provided as part of its consular attention and a deputy foreign relations minister who dedicates all her time to Salvadorans residing abroad.

Relatively speaking, Panamanians are the most pampered of all Central Americans. So far this century, for every Panamanian deported, fourteen obtained US citizen-ship and another fourteen permanent residence. They are followed by Nicaraguans, with Costa Ricans in third place. Honduras, meanwhile, has the worst deportations to residency or citizenship ratio, with nearly four of its citizens deported for every one who obtains permanent residence and six deported for every citizenship granted.

All countries experienced a drop in the naturalized/deported ratio in 2000-2007 compared to 1992-1996: twelve versus four naturalized for every one deported in Nicaragua’s case. Several countries have seen an actual reverse in their situation: El Salvador, for example, had six naturalized for every one deported in the first period, and now has 1.58 deported for every one who gets citizenship. Guatemala had three naturalized for every one deported, and now has to sacrifice two Guatemalans on the altar of deportations just to get one recycled as a US citizen. Two Hondurans obtained citizenship for every one deported before and now six are deported for every Honduran naturalized. Bauman would say that ever more Central Americans are being thrown away than are being recycled. These figures show that the policies have become harsher and the flows (North-South and vice versa) are increasing along with an increase in non-recyclable people.

When Central America
took in immigrants

Central America’s migration policies are not and have not historically been much more benevolent than the US ones. Cubans were stigmatized almost throughout the region during the Cold War, while Afro-Caribbeans are still second-class citizens in Nicaragua. In El Salvador the policies had a marked European bias; in a study of the migratory movements of 1862, Jules Duval noted that while not actually offering free passage to emigrants, Salvadoran government representatives in Europe were certainly willing to facilitate it. As in other countries, those migrants were offered land and loans.

At the opposite extreme was the recruitment of Chinese immigrants. The Salvadoran government authorized Poncio Darnaculleta to traffic Chinese, according to Rodolfo Barón Castro: “The businessman promised to freely contract a thousand Chinese, take them from their native land to El Salvador, and deliver them to the hacienda owners, with whom the Asians would sign a contract for an agreed number of years.” The Europeans were given incentives to stay while the Chinese were supposed to insert themselves into the circular migration scheme that Newland proposes as a win-win-win strategy.

There is no greater contrast than the history of the Chinese immigrants in Nicaragua and that of their German and US counterparts. Influential people in national politics were convinced that European or US immigration was needed to develop the country. As German traveler Julius Fröebel described it, around 1855 General Trinidad Muñoz “knew that his country, and Central America in general, could only be saved by introducing human elements from the United States and Europe…. Donating national land to the immigrants, facilitating the naturalization of foreigners, granting them freedom of religion were a few of the main points of the governmental program he had in mind.”

The 30 years of Conservative government and Zelaya’s Liberal revolution brought that program to fruition. In 1889 Nicaraguan President Evaristo Carazo offered five cents per plant and gave away 350 hectares of uncultivated national land—actually indigenous communal lands—to any foreigner willing to plant over 25,000 coffee shrubs. This triggered a fever to “proclaim” huge extensions of land as uncultivated. From 1890-1892 alone, around 17,500 hectares were proclaimed uncultivated, of which 27.54% was acquired by foreign citizens: 12.13% specifically assigned to Americans and 6.5% acquired by Germans.

The Chinese were “too ugly”

The attitude toward the Chinese was the extreme opposite. In 1867 the Nicaraguan government decided to take up migratory issues seriously, creating consultative com-missions of “the most competent citizens” in the depart-mental capitals so that Nicaragua would ultimately “acquire the population size it needs” and establish “a judicious immigration system.” Each commission issued a report. The one in León held that “the immigrants must be few and of a very good class.” Rivas recommended introducing “coolies,” a pejorative term for Asian, particularly Chinese and Indian, workers. In the United States of the 19th century, the coolie stereotype was self-employed Chinese launderers and cooks.

One citizen went to the extreme of protesting this suggestion in the Gaceta Oficial, arguing that “the government should not authorize the introduction of Chinese because they are too ugly and cause horror.” A moral condemnation followed this esthetic one. In 1881, in the October issue of El Ateneo, a magazine published in León, Dr. Salvador Calderón urged the government to block Chinese immigration because “the Chinese worker will always be a stranger to your language, your beliefs, your customs: once the Mongolian population is introduced into a country there is no easy way to root it out.” Years later, General Duarte, then governor of the Caribbean Coast, issued Decree 31 of June 4, 1895, based on Article 17 of the 1893 Constitution, prohibiting “the disembarking of Chinese immigrants in what is called the Atlantic Coast.” Chinese immigrants could only evade this prohibition by paying for entry into the country.

Servile policies with a racist face

The situation was very similar in Costa Rica. In 1916 a “Blue Book” was published, aimed at attracting European immigrants. Its objective, in its own words, was to “inform the capitalists, tourists and businessmen abroad of Costa Rica’s excellent opportunities for employment that profitably remunerates their money and their work.”

In contrast, scientist Clorito Picado denounced the danger of the presence of blacks: “Our blood is turning black, and if this continues, no grain of gold will come out of the crucible but rather a piece of coal. There may still be time to rescue our European blood heritage, which is what has possibly saved us up to now from falling into systems with a nasty African aspect.” As late as 1940, Costa Rican intellectual Yolanda Oreamuno observed that “blacks are coarse of thought and slow of imagination, as passionate as an animal in heat, but guided in this by instinct.”

Africans and Chinese were shunned by migration policies that were extremely selective and slaves to public opinion, which associated European features with superiority and those of Africans and Chinese with moral baseness. They were servile policies with a racist face.

“Carriers” of physiognomy,
poverty, wars… and what else?

In “Anthropology,” Kant defines physiognomy as “the art of judging what lies within a man, whether in terms of his way of thinking or his way of sensing, from his visible form and so from his exterior.” Kant denies that moral and physical features have any correlation and insists that “as a rule, people who never leave their own country jeer at the unfamiliar faces native to foreigners. Does a hump on the nose indicate a scoffer? Does the peculiarity of the Chinese facial structure, in which the lower jaw is said to project slightly beyond the upper, hint at their obstinacy—or is that of the American Indian, whose forehead is overgrown with hair from both sides, a sign of innate mental deficiency? These are conjectures that permit only an uncertain interpretation.”

But many ideas about physiognomy have become common sense. Many citizens speak of “slant-eyed” Chinese and of Arabs whose frowning features “reflect their killer instinct.” The physiognomy of tattoos advertises one’s trade: posters at border posts between Mexico and Central America warn of the tattoos presumed to be those of the mareros, members of the most fearful youth gangs. They are the latest “skin color” identifying the undesirables.

There is also political and economic physiognomy: coming from countries where there was war, is a lot of poverty or the governing groups challenge US hegemony casts doubt on the moral rectitude of their citizens, which in turn blocks their admission into many countries. Nicaragua requires visas of citizens from 40 of the nearly 200 nations into which the planet is divided.

Nations explicitly damned by the empire through declarations of war, economic embargoes and Hollywood-like interdictions—Afghanistan, China, North Korea, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine and Vietnam, among others—figure on Nicaragua’s list of nations handled with the bureaucratic caution of the “consulted visa”: category C according to its official nomenclature. Also on that list are countries condemned by the world economic system: Albania, Angola, Armenia, Bangladesh, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Laos, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan. The Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry’s web page admits the “possibility of redemption” for the citizens of countries named on these lists “when they hold residence of the United States of America, England or Canada in their passports. In these cases the Consulate will issue the visa without major fuss.

Nicaragua is a country of transit toward the United States and Canada, two of the globe’s blessed countries. Although it has no stake in doing so, Nicaragua detains migrants in transit in a Migratory Retention Center. In the three cells—two for men and one for women—one can usually find undocumented travelers from China, Japan, Somalia, Guinea, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. At times they are accompanied by Guatemalans, Hondurans or Canadians who work as coyotes. They also often share cells with drug traffickers and suspected murderers.

Uncertainty and fear of small numbers

Why do restrictive migratory policies “sell” so well? In his book Fear of Small Numbers, Indian anthropologist Arjun Appadurai argues that the problem is rooted in the idea of predominant and representative “national ethnicity” that underpins the modern idea of nation-state. “No modern nation, however benign its political system and however eloquent its public voices may be about the virtues of tolerance, multiculturalism, and inclusion, is free of the idea that its national sovereignty is built on some sort of ethnic genius.”

The idea of a singular national ethnicity is not spontaneous. It has been produced and naturalized at a very high cost, through rhetoric, wars and sacrifice, punitive disciplines of linguistic and educational uniformity and the subordination of myriad local and regional traditions to produce what we call Indians, French, Indonesians, Costa Ricans…. The path from a predominant and representative ethnicity to the cosmology of a sacred nation and ethnic purity is flat and direct. Nonetheless, this isn’t enough to lead to wars of ethnic cleansing or restrictive migratory policies. Another element needs to come into play: uncertainty.

In our times, uncertainty is associated with the globalization processes: the speed at which material and ideological elements now circulate across national borders has generated a growing feeling of uncertainty about who can be labeled them/theirs or us/ours. Globalization volatilizes the old certainties about a stable and sovereign territory, a population that can be measured and contained within a circumscription, a realistic census and a few stable and transparent categories. The reaction is to segregate, reject and attack.

Rejection and violence can create macabre forms of certainty and turn into brutal techniques to determine who are “ours” and who the “others” are. Bauman observes that throwing a certain class of ‘outsiders’ from their homes and stores is a way of exorcising for some time the terrifying specter of uncertainty and insecurity. Border barriers, apparently carefully erected to impede access to “false asylum seekers” and “purely economic” immigrants, serve to bolster the unstable, erratic and unpredictable existence of those within. That’s why globalization produces new incentives for cultural purification. Although Latinos may seem a minority, they endanger the ethnic, religious and social purity of the United States. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP) are stained by olive-skinned Latin American Catholic indigenous people. They are feared because it only takes small numbers to jeopardize purity.

Multicultural or mixophobic times?

That fear is expressed in “mixophobia,” a feature that Bauman says shows up in a marked form in current societies: “Mixophobia is manifested in an impulse to find islands of similarity and equality in the middle of the sea of diversity and difference.” This trend seeks to ensure—for oneself and those close to one—territories free from the disorder and confusion being imposed. A community of like-minded people functions as an insurance policy against the dangers of daily life in a multilingual world and the continual friction with different ethnic groups and their multicolored customs. In this way it is possible to avoid the effort of opening up and understanding the different moral codes, bodily and verbal linguistic codes and the like.

Mixophobia occurs at the very center of the new Babels. Reverend Rolf Pearson worked some eight years in Lutheran Church missions in the Middle East. He notes that 85% of the population in the Persian Gulf is foreign: 15 million immigrants from Rumania, Bulgaria, Poland, Armenia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Kazajstan and China, among others. The labor camps to which they are confined are highly controlled Babels where the inhabitants earn $100 a month, while the minimum salary for natives is $1,500. The migrations have drastically disrupted the ethnic composition of many localities. Rumanians migrate to Italy, Spain and Germany, while Moravians and Chinese populate empty villages in that no-man’s land where the foreign companies come to establish their own labor legislation. Chinatowns proliferate under the impatient gaze of natives who have not yet left. Mixophobia blossoms in that context.

There are no NGOs or other vestige of civil society in the Persian Gulf. Even the churches find it very difficult to operate and lobby. Their leaders fear the loss of their privileges, with the consequence that no one speaks for the immigrants and deportations climb, spreading throughout the world. According to Vivi Akakpo of the Kenya-based All Africa Conference of Churches, just in the first half of 2006, South Africa deported 50,000 Zimbabwean immigrants. Each African deported from Europe is escorted by three police officers. Thousands of African and Asian immigrants have died trying to get to Europe. Mixophobia doesn’t measure costs. According to Sonia Lokku, of the prestigious French NGO CIMADE, each deportee from France costs 27,000 euros.

Anti-immigrant CPCs in Malaysia

In some regions and countries the mixophobia is manifested with brutal violence. Malaysia has become one of the most xenophobic societies in the world. In 2005, through an amendment to Malaysia’s “essential regulations,” the government conferred on the Ikatan Relawan Rakyat (RELA), which translates to People’s Volunteer Corps, the faculty of demanding documents, carrying arms, making arrests and raiding public and private premises with no need for arrest or search warrants. Since that time it has deployed excessive force and implemented numerous illegal detentions and distortions.

RELA dates back to 1972, when it was given the same functions that Daniel Ortega’s Councils of Citizen’s Power (CPCs) have in Nicaragua: to be the government’s vigilant eyes and ears. RELA is now made up of nearly half a million volunteers who enjoy legal immunity and busy themselves maintaining order by apprehending undocu-mented migrants coming mainly from Myanmar, India and Nepal.

They are fully uniformed, armed paramilitary bodies prepared to invade migrants’ houses at midnight, treat them brutally, destroy ID cards, burn work permits, demand bribes and confiscate cell phones, jewelry, clothing and household goods before cuffing the migrants and taking them to the detention camps for “illegal migrants.” They are indifferent to denunciations from Human Rights Watch because the 2005 amendment has granted them unprecedented and unrivalled power.

When five can’t be six

Mixophobia is brilliantly described in the one-paragraph short story titled “Community” by Franz Kafka: “We are five friends. Once we came out of a house one after the other… Finally we all stood in a row. People began to notice us, pointed to us, and said: Those five just came out of that house. Since then we have lived together. It would be a peaceful life if a sixth one were not always trying to mix in. He does nothing to us, but he gets on our nerves, that is enough. Why does he butt in where he’s not wanted? We don’t know him and don’t want to accept him. To be sure, we five also did not know each other before, and if you will, we don’t really know each other now either; but what is possible and tolerated with the five of us is not possible and not tolerated with that sixth one. Moreover, we are five and we don’t want to be six. And what’s the point of this continual being together, anyway? Even with the five of us it doesn’t have any point, but now we’re together, after all, and we will stay that way, but we don’t want a new association, indeed because of our experience. But how are we supposed to make all that clear to the sixth one? Long explanations already would almost signify an acceptance into our group. It is better to explain nothing and not accept him. Let him pout as much as he likes, we will elbow him away; but however much we shove him away, he comes back.”

The United States is
diametrically opposed to Sweden

This exclusion-based community building has reached alarming levels in some societies, in manifest contradiction with the ideals they profess. The refugee flows have put many societies’ hospitality, solidarity and willingness to expand the sense of community to the test. That refugee test situates Sweden and the United States at opposing poles. The majority of Iraq’s two million refugees—the fastest growing refugee group in the world—are living in Syria, Jordan and Iran, but a large number is in Europe. Sweden has accepted over half of all Iraqi applications for asylum in Europe. In 2007, over 9,000 Iraqis left their country to live in Sweden, a country that approves between 80 and 90% of all asylum requests. It is estimated that around 79,000 Iraqis now call Sweden home, having started arriving in the nineties.

At the other extreme is the United States, where barely 5,316 Iraqis were accepted as refugees between 2001 and 2007. The National Security Department claims security reasons for such a meager figure in a country that supposedly started the war to help those to whom it is now closing its borders. The tiny city of Sodertalje on the outskirts of Stockholm welcomed 5,500 Iraqis in the past five years. If Sodertalje’s 80,000 residents could find room for 5,500 Iraqis, are we to understand that the roughly 300 million residents of the United States find it extremely uncom-fortable to live with an even smaller number? The few Iraqis admitted to the United States are subjected to an “enhanced process” that includes additional interviews, biometric selection and matching their file against employers’ data bases.

None of these procedures is necessarily required in the case of non-Iraqi refugees. In the same 2001-2007 period, the United States admitted 22,516 Iranians, 20,573 Cubans and 11,864 Vietnamese, all from countries that are not facing a situation remotely similar to Iraq’s.

The United States, which together with Israel is responsible for several of the wars that have produced the most refugees, has reduced its annual acceptance of refugees from nearly 98,000 in the eighties and nineties to 49,000 so far in this century. And the refugees and “asylum seekers,” in Bauman’s judgment, “have now replaced the evil-eyed witches and other unrepentant evil-doers, the malignant spooks and hobgoblins of former urban legends. The new and rapidly swelling urban folklore puts the victims of the planetary outcasting in the role of the principal ‘villains of the piece’….”

Central America:
The unfair 2006 memorandum

Governments have sealed agreements to allow these “evil” refugees or migrants to be expeditiously packed up and returned to their country of origin. The United States picks up indigestible migrants and sends them to Mexico, which in turn exports them to Central America. In the 19th century, New York’s Ellis Island was the selection processing site. The film “Nuevo Mondo” by Italian Emanuele Crialese tells the story in magnificent sequences. The doctors sometimes observed for only seconds before discarding people who had made the grueling journey by boat to reside in the United States. The current process is closer to a form of natural selection. Walls, border patrols, roundups and cameras are the devices of migratory depredation. Only the most adept can avoid them. Most are discarded due to their own inexpertness.

The governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua signed a Memorandum on May 5, 2006, to repatriate migrants in a “dignified, orderly, streamlined and safe” way from Mexico to Central America. The Guatemalan and Salvadoran governments had already signed agreements with Mexico the previous year. Nicaragua received the first group of repatriates through this agreement on March 5, 2008.

There is no question that putting into practice what was agreed to in the 2006 memorandum has streamlined deportation, although it has not dignified it. Deportation is impossible to dignify because it is a process that truncates a project of improved living conditions and family reunification, and consists of applying the state violence of entities that abduct people and oblige them to retrace their steps against their will. The vestiges of good will that may have laced the 2006 Memorandum are annulled by the vices, deficiencies, negligence, bottlenecks and abuses of authority that taint its application: the list of those sent from Mexico doesn’t even coincide with the number who arrive back in the Central American countries; there is no personalized attention; those without documents aren’t even provided them for the deportation process; many deportees come directly from the United States rather than Mexico; there is no limit to the number of days they can be detained and no efficient human rights monitoring during their capture and detention in Mexico. Nicaraguans get the worst deal. As there’s no Nicaraguan consulate in Tapachula, they receive no consular accompaniment, which worsens their treatment as garbage, en masse with no rights, papers or name.

“They treat you like a dog”

There are many complaints of abuse. Mario Noel Sandoval shows where they beat him as he tells his story: “The migration authorities in the United States detained me. They just threw me onto the bridge, and from there I got to Mexico, to Reynosa, at two in the morning, and went to the Guadalupe shelter. I finally decided to turn myself into Migration to come back home because it was difficult wandering around there. I did that for two and a half years. I don’t want any more of that.”

Another 30-year-old migrant recalls: “I was entering the city of Puebla and the state police officers wanted to take my money, abusing their uniform. As I didn’t have much money, they beat me and sent me to Tapachula. I spent twelve days there, until today. I’d left Nicaragua about two weeks earlier and was in that migration center nearly two weeks more.” During those two weeks he was incommunicado. “All they do there is grab you and send you via satellite. They don’t tell you anything. The place where they send you and detain you only has a wall with some numbers, but the migration people don’t tell you anything. There were some broke Salvadorans there. When you don’t have any money, they ask you the phone number where you’re going to be staying in the United States and who’s going to pay for you. Then they grab you and take you to a house, kidnapped.” These abducters work with migration and are inserted in local mafias: “They control territories. There’s a mafia with collection agents, former army officials known as the Zetas.”

Mauricio López recalls how he was extorted by a migration official: “A Mexican state police officer detained me in Hidalgo and asked for my documents. But as I wasn’t carrying any, he proceeded to ask me for money—they call it a bite. I wasn’t carrying much money but he took the little I had. As I protested, he came and proceeded to arrest me, charging me with homicide. I didn’t even know who the person who had died was. Just like that. After it was demonstrated that I was innocent, they sent me to Chiapas, Tapachula. They treat you just like a dog. They violate people’s human rights because there are people they’ve grabbed unjustly and they stick them in the drains, where the sewage comes out. The police themselves authorize the representatives of each module to do that”

Another migrant says that the mistreatment is both verbal and physical: “I was on my way to the United States to look for my dad and a better life. But I didn’t stay long. Only about three months. I’d had some tattoos done here in Nicaragua so the federal police came and for some simple tattoos that don’t mean anything they grabbed me and threw me in the slammer. They sentenced me for being a gang member and for criminal association. In jail you’re all alone. There’s nobody to support you. Not even the consulate. I didn’t have a lawyer. The authorities didn’t give me access to communicate with my family. I tried to get in touch with them from jail. Their treatment of us was bad. They mistreated us because they said we were ‘jerks’ and ‘bastards.’ One of them told us, ‘I don’t care if you die; we’re going to throw you in the river. I don’t care if you die; you’re not my family.’ If you try to say anything to the people from the migra, they give you a kicking. They tell us we shouldn’t have left our own country. You have to be careful not to say anything because you’re in a foreign country.”

José González from Somotillo observes that they fall into more dangerous categories in the United States. “They viewed us as terrorists. And because they say we’re terrorists, they had us under investigation. In the United States there are people who’ve been detained for five, six months and the consul never shows up… nobody comes. We Nicaraguans suffer in the United States because we’re alone. The diplomatic corps in the United States doesn’t do anything. You call the consul and he never comes. Basically we don’t have any support.”

Defiant and rebellious masses

The defenselessness of being a foreigner—a form of awareness of being waste—stands out in some of the stories. The migrants are thrown in the same sack as other social groups whose residual condition and pernicious aspect appear unquestionable: gang members and terrorists are lethal, poisonous and explosive waste. But this awareness of their condition as dominated castaways doesn’t synthesize all the attitudes of the migrants. These and other migrants have a rebellious streak that explodes and defies the stratagems and discourses of the nationalist panopticon. The 19th century panopticon studied by Michel Foucault was a very different creature. Jails, reformatories, asylums and poor houses were designed in such a way that it was possible to have visual control of their totality from a single point. It was Argos’ all-seeing eye constructed architectonically. Today’s system doesn’t rely exclusively on what can be seen. Credit cards, cell phones, store invoices… all leave a paper trail. The nationalist panopticon—cultivated out of the fear of small numbers—seeks vision and control within a whole national territory, not just a small retention center.

Undocumented migrants seek to elude all visual, electronic, consular and other forms of detection, to outwit and defy the nationalist panopticon. It’s what Immanuel Wallerstein calls “individual resistance by physical relocation,” a resistance of immense magnitude. In a world of increasing North-South polarization with demographic decline in the North and demographic expansion in the South, he asks how it will be politically possible to stem the massive and unauthorized migration from the South to the North. His answer is that he sees no way to do it, and that such South-North migration will add to the authorized and unauthorized migration from Russia and China to a far more significant degree than is already happening, transforming the structure of social life in the North. He predicts that the South within the North will represent between 30% and 50% of the population by 2025.

It is the challenge of the barbarians and dangerous classes, who according to Wallerstein are saying “Thank you very much. Forget about civilizing us; just let us have some human rights, like, say, the right to move about freely and take jobs where we can find them.”

The movement of those without papers

Unlike Bauman, whose penetrating analysis digs deep but leaves a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the destructive and exclusionary dominant forces that threaten to do away with all that remains of community in societies, French sociologist Alain Touraine stresses the demobilizing and inoperative aspect of taking refuge at that level: the capacity for action of the dominated is weakened when defined only by the identity they are deprived of.

It’s no use talking only of jobless, undocumented, disregarded people. In Beyond Neo-Liberalism, Touraine asks whether collective actions, or even better social movements, can be constructed based on deprivation, dependence or simply misery? Some say evidently yes, adding, what else could they base themselves on? Wasn’t labor exploitation the origin of the working class movement, colonial domination what triggered the national liberation movements, the empire of the masculine world what incited the feminist movement? But, Touraine reminds us, postures that base themselves only on evidence don’t hold up to the least analysis. For these movements to have emerged it wasn’t enough that they opposed a given form of domination. They also had to stand for given positive attributes.

Touraine praises the concretizing of the undocumented migrants’ struggle, although he recognizes that its objective is not the transformation of society. It is about nothing more than regularizing their legal situation. The very use of the term “undocumented,” which has replaced that of “clande-stine,” shows us that there’s nothing revolutionary in their desire for social integration. Nonetheless, it has sparked a reflective fear in the government and a segment of public opinion that’s afraid of the migratory pressure caused by the world economic situation.

“Don’t call me foreigner”

That concretizing frees them from being co-opted and manipulated by presumed ideological vanguards. During the seventies, Touraine recalls, what he called the “new social movements” at the time wore out precisely because they presented themselves as inspired by Lenin. They were like new wine in old bottles, which soon turned to vinegar. The same thing shouldn’t happen again, he anticipates, as the spirit of May ’68 is being reborn with greater energy, now having shunt off the old political vocabulary and archaic ways of thinking. He particularly refers to those “without papers” and those in Aides, an association fighting discrimination against people with AIDS. He sees both as particularly imbued with a creative and liberating response. Homo-sexuals, feminists, people living with AIDS and undocu-mented migrants could federate, feeding their transforming mass even more. Touraine sees them as attacking problems linked to capitalist modernity and mass culture, questioning the main forms of power.

Those without papers challenge the distinction between citizens and non-citizens. They seek to abolish it because it violates equality before the law, an elementary principle that Kant based on the common possession of the earth and called “hospitality”: “Hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction; but, so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility…. It is only a right of temporary sojourn, a right to associate, which all men have. They have it by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe, they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must finally tolerate the presence of each other. Originally, no one had more right than another to a particular part of the earth.

Trying again: those who refuse to be discards

The migrants aren’t alone in their struggle. The solidarity of churches—which are multiplying their shelters for migrants—as well as NGOs and the population in general is praiseworthy and growing. In the Mexican town of Las Grajales, a crowd helped dozens of undocumented immigrants escape on October 13 of this year by burning vehicles and attacking the police. The townspeople were outraged when they discovered that the police agents had detained the immigrants to then sell them to contrabandists. They rescued them from their kidnappers and took them to the mayor’s office and waited outside in the plaza. Other residents joined them to show their support.

The challenge of the nationalist panopticon will spark outbreaks of rebellion of an increasingly collective nature. Néstor García Canclini asks: “What stories—neither just epic nor melodramatic—can demonstrate the readjustments taking place between the local and the global?” This author invites us to explore what stories persist about “the others”—hindering new paths for integration—and what new ones are forming in the recent migratory, commercial and tourist exchanges.

The tales told by undocumented migrants and their troubadours are defying nationalist policies and views, as demonstrated by the songs of Los Tigres del Norte, Calle 13, Manu Chao, Molotov and many others. The damage done by the nationalist perspective and panopticon has very prolific troubadours. The Mexican folk song “La Migra” is a good example of how the rejects don’t resign themselves to that role or the role of victim: La Migra grabbed me/ fifty times, let’s say,/ but never broke me,/ I didn’t give a damn./ I’ll make its compatriots pay/ for the blows it gave me./ I came in through Mexicali/ and San Luis, Río Colorado,/ I crossed all the lines/ of contraband and wetback/ but I never cracked and got to the other side. In this same vein, a deported Nicaraguan getting off the bus in the Huembes market bid farewell to the Foreign Ministry officials who escorted her back to Managua and said with a smile, “Tomorrow I’m off again for Chinandega and from there, you know where!”

Danilo, a Kiché from Guatemala, was detained for over four months in a US penal center before being deported. It was a hard and anguishing process. He was interviewed by Guatemalan anthropologist Ricardo Falla, who wrote that “Nothing would change his mind, even knowing he could get 10 to 20 years in prison if they catch him again. A few months after talking to me, Danilo set off again and made it back to the United States...” That trip is part of his dream of getting ahead. Danilo has managed to avoid the nationalist panopticon and is working.

The following persistent defiance was expressed by a young Nicaraguan who has also been deported: “I’ve crossed several times. I’ve been in the United States several times. I tried it in January and saw a lot of Nicaraguans. When I see people from my country, I help them cross so they can fulfill their dreams. They catch some of them and kill them. Thank God, God protects you. My goal is to get to the United States to work. Once when I went they caught me. If they grab you twice they give you more jail time. They grabbed me because I was alone on the road. But I’m going right back. There are several of us here who are going back.”

Asked if he would go back, another responded: “Of course I’m going to try again. I’m going to try as many times as I can until I make it.” For some, not trying again amounts to resigning oneself to being a discard.

Enforcing their rights

Those who already lived in the United States have developed a better awareness that they have rights and can get them enforced. In this regard, the empirical appreciations of the Jesuit Service for Migrants team agree with Touraine’s statement that, as Frantz Fanon demonstrated, it won’t be the colonized who are furthest from the metropolis, the ones most strongly anchored in their culture, who will initiate the national liberation movements, but those who have been educated, generally in the colonizing country itself, and are now conscious of their rights.

Such is the case of 46-year-old José González from Somotillo: “I asked for an interview with the director. ‘I’m going to talk with human rights,’ I told him. ‘And what’s missing, what do you all need?’ he asks. ‘To be treated as people,’ I tell him, ‘but I don’t want to say anything to you; it’s with the human rights person.’ So they authorized us to bathe inside, they gave us a toothbrush and toothpaste, a little bar of soap… From then on they allowed us more time in the bathroom and gave us medical services because we were all full of fungus, all of us, because we were right out in the open air.”

These comments indicate how throwaways can become agents of change if they know how to get their rights respected in societies accustomed to reduced, low-intensity citizenships. It is paradoxical that those deprived of their rights by the citizen/foreigner dichotomy and the even more pernicious distinction between people with papers and those without are aware of their rights. It’s a hopeful sign that there are ever more migrants whose lack of papers does not submerge them in the trashcan of human garbage without fighting for their rights.

The number of migrants aware of their rights was made evident during the protest marches in the United States against the Sensenbrenner bill in 2005. The dimensions of the evasion of the nationalist panopticon can be calibrated in the half-million undocumented migrants who have managed to enter the United States annually since 2000.

Mischievous and malicious language games

“The worst implications of best practices” could be the title of a yet-to-be-written report to cure us of the most mischievous and perverse language games. The supposed “best practices” are associated with euphemisms that pervert the sense of language.

Imprisoning migrants and forcing them to go back to a country where they can’t live is called “safe and orderly repatriation.” According to Mexican migration, migrants are not captured and deported but rather secured and returned. The ideal migrants are “certified” workers, like chicken breasts that have passed the hygiene inspections. Migrants can’t aspire to the rank of globalized workers. They have to be clear that they are “visiting workers.” And the countries that expel migrants continue to be called countries of “destination” and “reception.”

All these terms are incubated in forums, conferences and symposia that are called in the name of the migrants and build a false consensus. Language is also perverted in another direction in these forums, defaming it. “Trafficking” in people is, in Bauman’s opinion, the “new term designed to replace, and defame, the once noble concept of ‘passage.’”

In the era of politically correct vocabularies they continue referring to “less-skilled” workers. It’s a wonder they don’t say “skill-challenged.” We speak of people with special capacities to refer to blind people, but carpenters and farmers are unskilled workers. Diatribes and dithy-rambs: some trades are denigrated, while attempts are made to dignify processes that cover those suffering them with opprobrium.

Risk and fascination
with those who are different

These language games fit very well with Newland’s complacent viewpoint. Bauman and Sassen are antidotes to such superficial concepts accompanied by innocuous and contemporizing proposals. But to stop ourselves becoming submerged in the sterile and bitter disconsolation of the macro-forces that constrain us and lead the world to futures in which the correlation of forces will continue beating down the dominated sectors with uncertain or apocalyptic blows, the most worrying analyses must be complemented by others that focus attention on the actors who are demonstrating Touraine’s growing protagonism and novel strategies. These actors are challenging assumptions of our legal systems and taking the postulates of the French revolution upon which modernity was founded toward certain routes not foreseen by friends of the convenient order that gives more to those who already have more and keeps the majority happy and undocumented.

The idea of community underlies that of nation. What really makes a community function? This burning question persists because the answer is formulated along the way. Nonetheless, from this vantage point we can confidently state that closed and excluding communities, inclined to selective assimilation, only generate endogamies that biologically and culturally impoverish. Society as community has to be saved. And that can only be achieved by dialoguing, at risk and in fascination, with those who are different.

José Luis Rocha is a researcher for the Jesuit Service for Migrants of Central America (SJM) and a member of the envío editorial council.

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