Monday, 7 June 2021
Emigrants and emigration states: A contested relationship?
In her presentation, Professor Délano Alonso focussed on what diaspora policies reveal about tensions and contestations over policies and politics that are negotiated, as well as how diaspora policies can be a space of accountability, in relation to other aspects of migration. She used the uniqueness of the Mexican case, given the space it shares in relation to the US and also that it is a country of emigration, asylum and transit, as well as of return. Recalling that Mexico’s relationship with its diaspora dates back to the 19th century, she pointed to the strong consular network that protect diasporans’ rights. Most of the policies in their origins focused on documentation, emergency responses on issues of confrontation with US authorities, need for repatriation, and promotion of Mexican culture. Over time there was a shift in the focus towards issues such as expanding consular services, extending ties with migrant organizations (in come cases with practices of control and co-optation), and strengthening the Mexican-American population as a potential lobbying power. They also shifted towards giving rights to Mexicans abroad, such as symbolic recognition (naming them as heroes, talented diaspora), offering voting rights, dual nationality, support through matching programmes for investment (e.g., 3 for 1 programme), in some cases allowing them to participate in the design of programmes that concerned them through the creation of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad and its Advisory Council. She also focussed on consular programmes that support access to social rights in the country of destination, mainly in the US, highlighting the shift from the idea of returning to the reality that most migrants were staying and settling in the US. This shift has to do with changes in migration flows from Mexico, which increased significantly in the mid-1990s in the aftermath of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and has declined in the last decade. There are several reasons for this shift in migration flows, including the increase in deportations from the US (with 3 million people returning forced or voluntarily in the last decade), as well as changing demographic, economic and political conditions in Mexico. The existence of networks of public and private services providers, migrant Mexican organisations, and other groups offering support has allowed Mexico to expand its diaspora policies towards a focus on social service provision, including education, health, labor rights, and civic participation.
Her main focus was the role of origin countries in policies for integration of diasporas, an area most often determined by countries of destination. She explains how these policies challenge traditional conceptions of sovereignty, citizenship and social protection from a transnational perspective, and can be a space for accountability across borders.
Turning to consular services aiming to help Mexicans and Latinos to fully integrate and thrive in their communities, and also to gain access to civic, social, economic, and political rights, she pointed out that the Mexican government sees their role in relation not only to the Mexican diaspora, but also to the wider Latin-American or Latino diaspora in the US. She gave several examples of programmes and their operation, emphasising that these programmes had not appeared in a vacuum, but were a result of migration groups’ initiatives, and public private partnerships in the US, Mexico, and other countries. This has gone beyond the Mexican case, as it had influenced other Latin American countries to behave in a similar way towards their diasporas.
An important factor in the success of these programmes is the infrastructure of the Mexican consulates, which are considered spaces where’s there’s a level of safety and trust with cultural and linguistic sensitivity especially for those with precarious status. These programmes assist in access to health, labour rights (reporting abuse, fair wages), financial education (opening bank accounts), naturalisation, and educational programmes. Examples of the results of these programs included more successful interaction with US institutions, greater motivation and self-confidence, improved communication with their children and understanding of the US education system, and better access to preventative health, safety, and banking. She gave examples of education programmes (Plazas Communitarias in the US), health programmes in the consulates (Ventallidas de Salud), health fairs (Latin American Health weeks), labour rights week (to help people unionise, claim labour rights, etc), scholarships (60,000 offered), programmes for immigrant youth (DACA workshops – outreach to populations, increased presence in these communities).
She also highlighted the challenges posed by the uneven implementation of these programmes, and their limited size in relation to the full population of 35 million Mexican diaspora, and their lack of evaluation, of transparency and capacity to measure the results, especially over time.
In contrast to these programs for the diaspora, she highlighted how despite the large numbers of returnees to Mexico, those who have been deported or returned face discrimination similar to that in the US in terms of access to social services and public institutions, and there is still a lack of an institutional framework to support their rights. In recent years there has also been a significant increase in asylum seekers to Mexico from 2013 onwards, peaking in 2019, without changes in infrastructure in the country to accommodate them. She emphasised the contrast between the material and human resources dedicated to the Mexican diaspora and what was done internally to support other migrant populations, the lack of coherence in Mexico’s migration policies and how focusing on diaspora policies can be a site for developing more holistic migration policies more broadly, in the countries of origin, destination, transit and return.
Professor Robin Cohen as discussant, underlined the enormous shift in scholarship away from a simple binary view of the actors, with the emigrant state on the one hand, and the diaspora on the other. He pointed out that the speaker had shown the complexity of the spectrum, by for example portraying the Mexican state not as a singular object, but with all kinds of internal divisions, as well as between different states, and also with a diaspora that is itself more complex. He also noted that there is a tendency to overestimate the extent of change coming from a particular US administration. He pointed to another layer of complexity; Mexico itself was becoming both a transit and an immigrant country. He welcomed the speaker’s cutting through this complexity by speaking on the one hand about integration in the US and on the other about return to Mexico. He wondered why Mexican policy is so strongly directed towards the integration of Mexicans in the US and so weakly articulating the return. He also asked about the voice of the actors themselves, and what were the main divisions and opinions in the immigrant communities. On the first point, Professor Délano Alonso answered that Mexicans relied on remittances and that diaspora engagement had been constructed around this economic logic, and also that the political presence of Mexicans as a lobby and a voting group in the US was important for Mexico’s political interests. She also mentioned the stigma around the returning population. As for the voices of actors themselves, she said that some of the immigrant organisations see a lot of potential and results working with the Mexican state, while others mistrust it, depending on whether or not they have political interests that can be met by the Mexican state.
The Q&A session revolved around the reasons for the contradiction between diasporic policies vs the treatment of the state to returning migrants, the functionality of consulates and dependence of who is in charge, the effect of the pandemic on consulates’ priorities, and the shifts from the Obama to the Trump administration. The pandemic had had an effect in the sense that there was a shift from integration access to social services towards a more traditional consular protection and responding to urgent matters (deportation, detention, etc.). There was also discussion about the relations between the Mexican consulates and the US. Finally, there was discussion on the methodology of the study, which was conducted over several years, with participant observation and 200 interviews with consular representatives and other government officials in Mexico, the US and Canada.
Foteini Kalantzi (A.G. Leventis Researcher at SEESOX)