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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Everyday State and Restriction
  4. Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach
  5. The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context
  6. The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction
  7. Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas
  8. Experiencing Everyday Restriction
  9. Conclusions
  10. References

Media coverage and emerging scholarship have brought increasing international attention to the urgent humanitarian crisis facing Central American transmigrants as they navigate landscapes of violence in Mexico. While stories of Central American immigrants who remain in Mexico are largely absent from this coverage, there is arguably a “Central Americanization” occurring on the southern border through this permanent settlement. Central Americans choosing to establish themselves in the border state of Chiapas do so in a socio-spatial and political context defined by the introduction of “progressive” state- and national-level migration policies on the one hand and the persistence of discrimination and violence on the other. We know little about the implementation of these policies on the ground, namely how they are applied and the impacts they have on the immigrant experience in Mexico. To begin to fill this gap, this paper focuses on the experiences of Central American immigrant women living in the Mexico-Guatemala border city of Tapachula. Employing a feminist geopolitical lens, which encourages conducting research and analysis at diverse scales, it examines their everyday interactions with low- to mid-level representatives of the Mexican state as they seek to avail themselves of their legal and social citizenship rights, and the impacts of these interactions on their livelihoods. This article argues that low- to mid-level officials’ actions reveal the importance of a form of extra-official, subtle, yet pervasive regulation through which immigrant women are denied rights they are entitled to, inducing negative impacts to their livelihoods, which I term everyday restriction.

Central American transmigration, or migration through Mexico to reach the United States of America, has received increasing attention as activists and the media have shed light upon the terrible violence and human rights abuses that transmigrants face at the hands of officials and criminals as they make their journeys (Ruiz, 2001; Castillo, 2006; Ogren, 2007; Ballinas, 2009). An overlooked reality is that Mexico is also, and has always been, a country of destination for Central American immigrants, many of whom settle on that country's southern border in the city of Tapachula and surrounding areas (Rivas Castillo, 2011; Fernández Casanueva, 2012). In recent years, Mexico has rolled out a number of measures meant to grant certain rights to Central American immigrants, including its recent 2010 Migration Law (Ley de Migración), which is the first comprehensive migration law enacted to date in that country. The research presented here, however, documents that Central American immigrants living in Mexico face barriers in availing themselves of these rights including the right to legal identity, health care, and education among others due to what I will describe as “everyday restriction.”

In this article, I analyze empirical evidence gathered over 12 months of ethnographic and participatory research with Central American immigrant women living in Tapachula in order to examine the gap between written policy and its implementation. This issue seems to impact Central American women disproportionately, as they are oftentimes charged with seeking out services and important documents on behalf of their family members, as well as for themselves. Findings demonstrate that immigrant women are blocked, delayed, and discouraged from accessing their rights to legal identity, health care, and regularization of their immigration status and other services, not because of restrictive laws, but as a result of negative and confusing institutional interactions with low- to mid-level officials and bureaucrats charged with executing policies. Low- to mid-level officials are defined as those bureaucrats, social workers, nurses, immigration agents, and educators, among others, who form part of the state through their roles in delivering social goods. Immigrant women's day-to-day interactions with officials are oftentimes confusing, subtle, and difficult to articulate and report. However, I maintain that if unchecked, they serve as barriers to immigrants’ access to vital services, and as a result, they induce harsh consequences such as deepening of poverty, blocked access to legal identity, and education for immigrants’ children, as well as difficulties in obtaining basic health care, among other ramifications.

These interactions and the impacts they produce constitute “everyday restriction.” Unlike overt forms of restriction legally sanctioned by macro-level state actors, such as detention, deportation, and harsh laws and policies that limit immigrant citizenship, mobility, access to employment, and human services, everyday restriction plays out in the day-to-day lives of immigrant women in Tapachula. Instead of consisting of definite, pronounced experiences as in overt restriction, everyday restriction is insidious. First, it is carried out by low- to mid-level state actors, who serve as the public's main access points to the institutions for which they work. Second, officials carrying out everyday restriction may not be cognizant of their actions. Specifically, their restrictive actions are often comprised of micro-aggressions: demeaning or intimidating body language, negative attitudes, rude comments, and arbitrariness, which taken together, result in poor service provision to the immigrant community (Pierce et al., 1977; Sue et al., 2009). Understanding how bureaucrats and other low-level state actors carry out micro-level restriction is significant to standing debates concerning the role of the state in regulating international migration (Heyman, 1995; Mountz, 2004; Hoag, 2010). I employ literature in feminist political geography, which advocates for situated understandings of the diverse and embodied actions of the state in day-to-day life (Haraway, 1988; Dowler and Sharp, 2001; Hyndman, 2001; Dixon and Marston, 2011) in order to reveal the unevenness in the implementation of policies, emphasizing that not all forms of restriction and regulation of international migration are overt.

Examining everyday restriction in the case of Central American immigrant women is also relevant to our understanding of how states in the Global South regulate migration in other instances of South–South migration. For example, despite the global tendency toward restrictive measures to control international migration, several Latin American countries, including Argentina and Chile (Mazza and Sohnen, 2010; Doña-Reveco and Levinson, 2012), have crafted immigration policies that tend to combine restrictive, security-centered measures on the one hand, with relatively “pro-immigrant” policies that provide opportunities for the regularization of immigration status, and guarantee access to certain social benefits on the other. Despite their potential positive impacts, we know little about the implementation and success of these measures on the ground. Indeed, bureaucratic discretion in policy implementation could be exacerbated by the well-documented phenomenon of petty corruption in many countries of the Global South. This occurs due to weakened institutional frameworks and the scarcity of resources to fund capacity building and training, which can lead to the large-scale abuse of immigrants (Rose-Ackerman, 1978; Lederman, Loayza, and Soares, 2005). Thus, understanding how everyday restriction functions is urgent to the case of South–South migration.

This paper begins by contextualizing the study within relevant literature on restriction, the state, and feminist political geographies, which encourage “scaling down” examinations of state power and the regulation of international migration. Next, the qualitative and participatory methodologies employed in this research are discussed. Then, after detailing the policy context in which low- to mid-level officials function, I specify their micro-scale actions, focusing in particular on different forms of refusal; arbitrary complications to service provision, such as extra paperwork; and mis/disinformation. Finally, I conclude that analyzing the everyday encounters of immigrant women and officials underscores the importance of feminist analysis in migration studies as it uncovers the gaps between official policy and its implementation.

The Everyday State and Restriction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Everyday State and Restriction
  4. Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach
  5. The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context
  6. The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction
  7. Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas
  8. Experiencing Everyday Restriction
  9. Conclusions
  10. References

Literature on the regulation and restriction of transnational migration flows is largely focused on national- and international-level policies, and the enforcement of political, physical, and socially constructed borders. For example, recent work has described the proliferation and impacts of deportation (Hagan, Rodriguez, and Castro, 2011; Hiemstra, 2012), as well as restrictive policy measures, security, and militarization of the border (Nevins, 2007; Coleman, 2009). Overt restriction at the local level is also being studied with respect to the creation of state- and city-level laws to limit immigrants’ rights, such as the U.S. states of Arizona and Alabama's controversial measures (Boushey and Luedtke, 2011), and specific city-level ordinances in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Nebraska (Varsanyi, 2008; Gilbert, 2009; Walker and Leitner, 2011; Wong, 2012). These policies have been shown to directly impact legal and social citizenship rights (Varsanyi, 2006), and various studies embody and locate the consequences of such overt measures on individuals, families, and communities as immigrants experience marginalization, feelings of non-existence, and liminal legality (Coutin, 2003; Menjivar, 2006).

The above studies of overt restriction tend to conceive of the state as an overarching, uniform, and rational actor in implementing policy. In reality, however, individuals at the lower levels of governance – bureaucrats and officials – are the policy enforcers. An emerging emphasis on the geographies and anthropologies of the state has uncovered this unevenness (Trouillot, 2001; Ferguson and Gupta, 2002; MacLeavy and Harrison, 2010; Mountz, 2011). Studies on bureaucracy have shown that bureaucrats exercise considerable discretion in their daily work depending on several internal/external forces and conditions within which they work (Lipsky, 2010). Understanding how bureaucrats implement policy requires the application of an analytical approach that emphasizes study of the state in people's everyday lives. Feminist scholars advocate for just this arguing for not only analysis of politics unfolding at the macro-scale, but at others as well. Drawing on feminist theory that posits the “personal is political” practitioners of feminist geopolitics argue that global political, economic, and social processes do not just play out at the macro-scale but also in localized, everyday, embodied ways (Hyndman, 2001:212). Feminist political geographers encourage us to examine the “actually existing” state (Brenner and Theodore, 2002), how it is grounded, embodied, and how it functions (Dowler and Sharp, 2001; Mountz, 2004). Indeed, investigating the state and its power in diverse spaces and settings, including in people's daily lives, provides the opportunity to recognize the impacts of geopolitical processes, such as the control of flows of transnational migrants, on the ground and also gives insight into how the politics of the state manifest, are reconstituted and reconfigured at these levels (Secor, 2001; Silvey, 2004). Feminist geopolitics provides a microscope through which we may view the diverse actors that make up the state, and thus unpack how, in this case for example, the regulation of international migration is enacted in day-to-day life.

Those who enact policy on the ground are street-level bureaucrats and gatekeepers, and they can possess considerable power (Lipsky, 2010). A growing body of work contemplates the empowerment of these actors. For example, studies have considered the importance of immigration officials’ decision-making processes in admitting immigrants at customs checkpoints (Gilboy, 1991; 1995) and their discretionary power (Hoag, 2010). Heyman (1995) studied how institutional forces and pressures influence immigration bureaucrats’ actions. These works underscore that when the state is examined “from below,” it is revealed as a fractured body made of actors with diverse interests. Further building on these arguments, Mountz (2004) demonstrated that state actions in enforcing immigration policy in times of crisis can emerge from bureaucrats' sense of powerlessness and vulnerability, even while the outcomes of these actions convey an image that is powerful. However, immigration officials dealing with immigrants upon arrival are not the only representatives of the state in contact with this population. In her study of immigrant incorporation in the southern United States, Marrow (2009) found that bureaucrats actually played a positive role in providing immigrants in study communities in the U.S. South with services, thus spearheading their bureaucratic incorporation into areas of settlement, even when political incorporation is slow to materialize. On the other hand, Deeb-Sossa and Bickham Mendez (2008) sustained that the subtle actions of health care and other service providers in another site in the U.S. South maintained socio-spatial borders serving to further exclude immigrants. Through my case study of Central American women's experiences with low- to mid-level officials from a range of local Mexican agencies, I contribute to this literature by framing this discussion in terms of the state's restrictive regulation of migration. Applying a feminist geopolitical frame, my objective is thus to underscore the gap between existing, relatively pro-migrant policy at the macro-level and its blurred implementation at the micro-scale.

Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Everyday State and Restriction
  4. Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach
  5. The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context
  6. The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction
  7. Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas
  8. Experiencing Everyday Restriction
  9. Conclusions
  10. References

The evidence presented in this article is based on qualitative and collaborative participatory research conducted between 2010 and 2012 in Tapachula. Specifically, it draws upon a sample of 50 in-depth, narrative interviews with Central American immigrant women and low- to mid-level officials. Due to its emphasis on the experiences of Central American women, this article focuses specifically on a reduced sample of 25 in-depth, narrative interviews with Central American women participants. Women were recruited using a snowball sampling method in mainly four neighborhoods with varying socioeconomic characteristics in different parts of the city. With few exceptions, interviews took place in the women's homes days to several weeks after I made initial contact with them. Interviews were loosely structured to allow women to speak openly and in detail about their experiences with state actors. Each interview was organized around three to four main questions. Participants were asked to describe occasions when they encountered state and bureaucratic actors starting from the beginning of their migration journey, their initial settlement, during major life events (marriage, birth of a child), and in their present lives. As such, interviews also captured immigrants’ migration and settlement histories.

This research is also informed by participant observation; I accompanied three women as they sought services and legal documents and made regular visits to offices on my own to obtain and compare information. In addition, I worked as a volunteer for six weeks in a local government agency, gaining valuable insight into the mechanics of day-to-day operations, policies, and common obstacles faced by both officials and clients – both Mexican and Central American. Even with direct participant observation of interactions, oftentimes conventional methods do not capture the detail and subtleties of the situations that immigrant women describe in interviews. As a result of this, and in order to directly involve women in the research process, I collaborated with Central American women to conduct a series of three participatory workshops using techniques such as role-playing, in order to better understand women's complex interactions with officials.

Interview and workshop data were transcribed and then analyzed with the aid of qualitative analysis software. The data were reviewed and then coded at themes related women's encounters with the state and the impacts of these experiences, as well as women's feelings and perceptions of these encounters. Subsequent rounds of coding identified commonalities and divergences among women's experiences. Quotations presented in this paper are representative of the most common interview themes. In addition, they were selected for their poignancy and clarity.

The women interviewed came from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala and had all lived in Tapachula or other cities near the border from five to 25 years, with the exception of one Salvadoran asylum seeker who had lived in the region for less than a year, but intended to settle in Mexico. The women ranged in age from their early twenties to early sixties, and the majority combined working within the home and part-time work in the informal economy, usually preparing and/or selling food or working as domestic employees. Few had steady, full-time jobs outside of the home, and most jobs were taken on a temporary basis. The majority of the women had incomes below the poverty level. In fact, only two of the women interviewed would consider their economic situation stable enough to consistently provide them access to private health care, food, and shelter. To protect the privacy of low- to mid-level officials, agencies, and immigrant participants in this study, I do not share their names or the specific locations of agencies.

The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Everyday State and Restriction
  4. Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach
  5. The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context
  6. The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction
  7. Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas
  8. Experiencing Everyday Restriction
  9. Conclusions
  10. References

Understanding Central American women's experiences with everyday restriction warrants a brief discussion of the policies that should guarantee their rights. Although this study was conducted before the 2011 Migration Law had begun to be implemented, numerous national- and state-level policies were already in place on paper to furnish immigrants and their families – including Mexican-born children – with rights. For example, in 2007 the state of Chiapas shaped a State Development Plan that included 710 policy measures concerning migrants’ rights and migration control. Publicized with an official slogan proclaiming the border a “frontera amiga” (friendly border), the measures included guarantees of human rights, personal security, temporary work for immigrants, programs facilitating access to health care and legal identity, and access to education for children of immigrants and immigrant children.

Of particular importance in Chiapas are measures that guarantee immigrant children's rights to legal identity through securing a birth certificate. Though Mexico grants citizenship jus soli, or to all those born within Mexican territory, undocumented as well as documented Central American parents have been excluded from obtaining citizenship rights and identity for their children. In Mexico, the registro civil, or civil registry, is the government agency charged with distributing birth and death certificates and performing marriages and divorces. Unlike in the United States, it is still common in Mexico to bring newborns to the registro civil to register their births and obtain a birth certificate, rather than doing so in the hospital. Though people are encouraged and receive incentives to register their children before they are six months old, it is not uncommon for older children to be registered. Children may be registered by a parent until they are eighteen years of age, after which the process is fraught with complex paperwork, long wait times, and fees. The most common reasons in general for waiting to register children include lack of information or knowledge of the procedure, inability to travel to the registro civil, or problems gathering required documents. For immigrants, lack of information or misinformation on their rights to register their Mexican-born children, the type of documentation required, and cost (if the child is older than six months) can be major barriers to obtaining birth certificates.

Until 2009, immigrants registering a child older than six months had to also provide proof of legal residency in the country, though it is important to note that according to interviews and conversations with immigrants and representatives of local non-profits, this policy was unevenly implemented, ignored, or made stricter depending on the situation, place, or time. The major problem with this longstanding policy is that it places a high burden on parents to supply paperwork that could be impossible to provide, with the unintended consequence of their children's exclusion from the registry. In response to irregularities in service delivery for children of immigrants and in a major push to improve access to identity for all children in the state, Chiapas opened a special registro civil to attend to the immigrant population in Tapachula in 2009. Importantly, not only do immigrants report discrimination with the system; poor, rural-dwelling, and Indigenous citizens of Mexico also face barriers to receiving birth certificates, similar to those that immigrants’ experience (Mercado Asencio, 2012).

Other policies facilitate the regularization of undocumented immigrants’ immigration status. Beginning in 2002, the National Institute of Migration (INM) initiated periodic regularization campaigns aimed at providing authorized residency to undocumented Central American immigrants. Chiapas, in particular, was at the vanguard of promoting federal regularization programs through the INM. In the early days of this policy, if immigrants met basic residency requirements, could afford to pay a fine, and had proper documentation, they were able to apply for a temporary, yet renewable, residency visa called the FM3.1 In most cases, holding an FM3 visa allowed its holder to work, access certain social programs, and travel within the national territory without risk of being deported. In 2008, after several years of this ongoing program, the government shifted from the practice of mostly distributing the non-immigrant FM3 visa to instead assigning a permanent resident visa called the FM2.2 Unlike the FM3, the FM2 leads to naturalization. To be eligible for an FM2 visa during the fieldwork of this research, the applicant had to be a resident in the country beginning in January 2007 and either have a Mexican family member (child or spouse) or be formally employed.

Policies have existed since before the passage of the 2011 Migration Law in Mexico, in Chiapas and especially along the southern border, which reinforced undocumented and documented immigrants’ rights to public health care. In line with these policies, women are guaranteed pre-natal care and children receive preferential treatment within the system. According to interviews with health care workers, in Tapachula, immigrants should have full access to the public health system at zero or low cost. Documented immigrants should be able to participate in the public health insurance program, the Seguro Popular. Yet, until 2012, it was common practice to deny Mexican children of undocumented immigrants access to the Seguro Popular, a practice that was justified by the explanation that the main beneficiary on a policy had to be documented.

Though policy measures implemented by Chiapas's Governor Juan Sabines (2006–2012) were lauded for their pro-migrant elements by Central American governments (Sabines, 2012), the evidence presented later in this paper clearly demonstrates that there is still much work left undone. During the time of research, however, policies were constantly evolving and many questions remain as to whether or not the state has enough resources to carefully and fairly implement them. There are continued concerns within the immigrant community, for example some immigrants are fearful they will be deported if they seek out services (Chandomí, 2012). Additionally, unprecedented, recent protests carried out by immigrants in Tapachula called for uniform and accessible regularization processes (Gonzalez, 2012; Ochoa Arguello, 2012).

The New Migration Law

Under mounting pressure from civil society and the public after the tragic massacre of 72 transmigrants in Tamaulipas, Mexico's 2011 Ley de Migración (Migration Law) is the country's first attempt at a comprehensive migration policy. The key tenets of this policy include a strong emphasis on respect for the human rights of migrants, facilitation of immigrants’ mobility, and parity in the treatment of immigrants and Mexican citizens. It eliminates the category of non-immigrant visas, which facilitates immigrants’ permanent residency in the country (Alba and Castillo, 2012). As Alba and Castillo (2012) signal in their report, the new law's emphasis on both human rights and national and border security “can appear contradictory and doubtlessly require the agencies mandated with its implementation to enjoy a degree of discretion as they prioritize certain objectives over others” (15). The law has also been seriously criticized for excluding civil society, scholars, and activists from participating in the elaboration of the law – arguing that those who best understand the phenomenon of migration and problems facing migrants in Mexico are those they work with them and the migrants themselves (Dean, 2011). Other criticisms include: the continued detention of migrants for unconstitutional amounts of time, the high level of discretion given to officials to implement laws, the prohibitive cost of processing a visa, and the lack of a visa for transmigrants, which could help protect them from exploitation and violence as they cross the country (Zúñiga, 2011).

The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Everyday State and Restriction
  4. Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach
  5. The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context
  6. The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction
  7. Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas
  8. Experiencing Everyday Restriction
  9. Conclusions
  10. References

Central American women and low- to mid-level officials interact with each other in a range of spaces including schools, hospitals, social benefits offices, and even in the streets. Using the analytic approach described above, I present the most common experiences that immigrant women reported taking place in the registros civiles, public health clinics, and in a local immigration office. In focusing exclusively on women's lived experiences as they were described in interviews and in workshops, I rely on their interpretations of their meetings with officials as valid representations of their subjectivity and their situated knowledge as migrant women (Haraway, 1988; Lawson, 2000). Low- to mid-level officials’ actions as everyday forms of restriction fall into two broad categories, each of which will be explored in greater depth below: (1) refusal of service based on individual discretion; (2) refusal of service based on inability to meet documentation requirements (both legal and arbitrary). It is important to note that officials are not a homogenous group, and indeed, their actions are not always negative – in some instances, they may go to great lengths to actually help immigrants.

One subtle form of refusal reported by immigrant women was that low- to mid-level officials supplied them with arbitrary justifications to deny them services. Raquel, a young Honduran mother, provided an example of when she was turned away from a local registro civil, even after diligently gathering the many requisites needed to obtain a birth certificate for her child – a feat that on its own is a barrier to many poor, marginalized, or immigrant women in Tapachula. Her daughter was born in Mexico, but she had waited six years to register her. Instead of helping to clarify Raquel's daughter's status, the attending official insisted that the child was not Mexican and chastised Raquel for not having placed her in school. She explained,

…when I go to the registro to get her a birth certificate, they tell me, “no,” that they won't register her because she is already six-years-old and because she is Honduran, and not Mexican. “How could it be that this girl isn't already registered, if she should already be in school?” And that was what it was like to fight with this woman [the official].

The official refused to serve Raquel despite the fact that she presented the appropriate documentation to prove her daughter's identity. Instead, she made unsubstantiated assumptions about the origin and nationality of the child. Nevertheless, the official held enough power to use her claims to justify not registering Raquel's daughter, a decision that bears the consequence of blocking the child's access to school and health care in addition to the other citizenship rights associated with holding legal identity and nationality. The passage evidences how officials have the power to arbitrarily determine who will be served, based on their personal discretion.

As with many of the women who participated in this study, Raquel's experience made her feel angry and frustrated. After a new registro civil that specializes in serving migrants opened to attend to the growing immigrant population in Tapachula, Raquel was finally able register her daughter. She expressed her desire to prove to the official that she was wrong:

I'm going to show her that the girl isn't from Honduras, that she's from here- and I even have a birth certificate to show it – and now I'm just waiting for them to have it ready so I can bring it there and show it to her because she was wrong, and those women are used to doing things like that.

After being blocked from obtaining her daughter's birth certificate the first time, Raquel was eager to correct the official – her frustration and sense of justice drove her desire to find the official and somehow rebalance the power dynamic between the two of them. Weak and discretionary justifications for refusing to serve immigrant women, like those mentioned above, tend to further reinforce boundaries between immigrant women and officials – confirming participants’ perceptions that officials hold all of the power, are accustomed to acting with discretion, and that Central American women have no choice but to accept their decisions.

Consuelo, a 34-year-old Honduran mother of two, who had lived in Tapachula for nine years at the time I met her, experienced a similarly confusing encounter with officials when she and her Mexican partner sought pre-natal care at a local public hospital. As in Raquel's case, the official's justification for denial of service was based on the legitimacy of her identity, and questions surrounding the future citizenship rights of her unborn child, which legally should have no bearing on her eligibility to receive pre-natal care in Tapachula. In her interview, Consuelo described the circumstances under which she was barred from care:

They didn't want to admit me to the hospital because I didn't have my papers. They told me, “no,” because if something were to happen to me, how would they be able to identify me? How were they to know that my husband was actually my husband, that “he” [upon being born] was my child,3 and if I had conceived here [in Tapachula], or if I had come from the “other side”4 already pregnant?

The social worker's doubts about where the child was conceived as well as his refusal to extend care to Consuelo indicate this public servants’ deeper misunderstanding of official policy, which is not reflected in operating procedure in the public hospital. This official's actions were couched within his own assumptions about the importance of the documentation of legal identity of the immigrant and the unborn child in order to determine entitlement to basic health care. In contrast, Consuelo and her partner have a different interpretation of what it means to be a citizen with entitlement to social goods. She quotes her husband as arguing, “yes, she's been here for four years, she is my wife, he is my son [referring to the unborn child], how is it that you're not going to take care of her for me?” According to their reasoning, the simple fact that Consuelo has lived in Tapachula for years, has a Mexican partner, and is pregnant with his child should entitle her to care.

As evidenced by Raquel and Consuelo's stories – which only represent two of the several cases reported during fieldwork – officials can be straightforward in their intention to refuse services to immigrant women; however, they often express themselves indirectly and justify their decisions with explanations that simply “do not make sense” to their clients. Regardless, the client must accept irrational explanations regardless of their validity, which in turn contributes to a dynamic of disempowerment experienced by immigrants. The disconnect in expectations and the gap between the law and its implementation combined with immigrants’ vulnerability creates an uneven playing field upon which immigrants are likely to lose. The lack of logic and consistency in explanations reflects these officials’ seemingly capricious behavior, which ultimately converts itself into a mechanism of power and control in the sense that it prevents immigrants from claiming their rights. Officials’ capriciousness is a form of restriction that functions to curtail access while it also could reinforce immigrants’ sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Immigrants who lack access to accurate, consistent, and formal sources of information concerning their rights may in turn perceive that most officials are unlikely to help them, causing them to shy away from seeking services.

Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Everyday State and Restriction
  4. Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach
  5. The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context
  6. The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction
  7. Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas
  8. Experiencing Everyday Restriction
  9. Conclusions
  10. References

Central American women interviewed were also obstructed from obtaining their rights by the complicated web of paperwork, requirements and fees that the state requires. In some cases, such bureaucratic barriers exist legally, while in other cases, officials may arbitrarily add their own requirements, a clearly illegal practice. This exacerbates the burden of paperwork already assumed by immigrant women, who are at a disadvantage when navigating Mexican bureaucracy because of their typically truncated access to information due to socioeconomic and spatial constraints. There are many forms and documents required in order to obtain a typical official document. The requirements for a birth certificate, for example, can include copies of identification cards, birth certificates of the parents, the presence of multiple witnesses (who must be Mexican nationals), proof of an address, and a paper certifying that a birth took place (constancia de alumbramiento), among other documents. For the poor and for immigrants, having to gather these papers – some of which require payment to obtain – and to make copies of them all amounts to a considerable sum of money in addition to the loss of time at work. Some participants in this study estimated that it could take up to a week of visits to complete an official trámite or process to obtain a birth certificate. Indeed, extra requirements complicate immigrants’ attempts to obtain official documents or services because they often do not have ready access to an updated and stamped copy of their birth certificate, the money, time off work, or reliable sources of information about these processes. However, in addition to sanctioned paperwork, referred to in Spanish as papeleo, participants complained that low- to mid-level officials also placed additional, unsanctioned requirements or roadblocks on clients.

In Spanish, these extra steps are referred to as vueltas, literally translated as “turns,” and closely related to the English idiom of “going around in circles.” In other cases, officials disinformed clients regarding requirements causing them to make extra trips to obtain the proper documents. These extra requirements are common and are often perceived as benign and “just part of doing business,” by officials and clients alike. It is difficult to discern whether these exclusionary practices are intentional, done with malice, or a thoughtless/unmindful reproduction of deeply engrained and taken for granted institutional norms. Regardless, these types of conditions are inherently unfair and over-burden the poor and those unfamiliar with official processes; many immigrants fall into these two groups.

Exemplifying this reality, a group of Central American women participating in a workshop role-playing exercise parodied a typical experience for immigrant women who go to an immigration office to obtain documents:

Clerk:

Do you have all of your documents?

Central American Woman (CA):

No.

Clerk:

Do you know English and Spanish?

CA:

No. (loud laughter in the room)5

Clerk:

And French?

CA:

No.

Clerk:

Capriciously. Did you bring your grandfather's birth certificate? Your great-grandfather's? Your own birth certificate…passport?

CA:

No.

Clerk:

Your permission to enter Tapachula?

CA:

(a bit more confidently) Yes!

Clerk:

Did you make a copy of it?

CA:

No!

Clerk:

(Sternly) Go and make 100 copies of it! Ah, and, did you have permission from your husband to come here to Immigration?

CA:

No.

Clerk:

Go and get permission! Come back in a month!

CA:

Oh no, but in a month? That's so much time!

Clerk:

Do you want your papers?

CA:

Yes.

Clerk:

Well, then you'll come back in a month.

CA:

(shyly and quietly) My goodness!

While skits and mini-theater exercises are often overlooked as sources of relevant data due to their tendency to be playful, comedic, and sometimes exaggerations of experiences (Pratt, 2000; Carte and Torres, 2013), as evidenced above, role players make important observations through their use of hyperbole and parody. At once, the participants comment on the perceived injustice of the number of requisites; the absurdity of certain requirements; the inconvenience and difficulty of obtaining requisites; and officials’ rudeness and capricious attitudes. Whether official or extra-official, perceived or real, vueltas imposed by the state or officials themselves are barriers that are unseen in macro-level analysis of restriction.

The cost of processing applications includes making numerous copies of supporting documents, transportation, and time absent from work, which prohibits many immigrants from obtaining important documents. Ángela, a Guatemalan taco vendor, explained that she waited for several years to register her first three children because she, “worked first to register them all at once and for the same amount, I said ‘if we run around for one of them, we might as well run around for all three at once’.” Putting off applications for pertinent documents, however, provokes further discrimination. Ángela remembers the reaction of the clerk who received her in the registro civil:

They criticized us, “why did you wait until now? They're 7, 6 and 3 years-old, why haven't you registered them before now?” Well, because there was no money. “Ok then, well come back this other day, we aren't going to register them today because you're missing certain requirements. And if you're not going to have them registered, then go back to where you came from.” I said, “I'll return, but my kids won't – how am I supposed to register them there [in Guatemala]? They weren't born there. I'm going to fight for the rights that they deserve, so let's see if you don't serve us when I come back,” I told her.

The passage exemplifies a situation in which many immigrant women have found themselves: registering children on time might be impeded by fear, financial considerations due to the considerable amount of paperwork and time away from work, or lack of information. However, waiting can lead to discrimination and biases that spring from officials’ assumptions about Central American immigrants. In Ángela's case, as in Raquel's, the official doubted whether her children were actually born in Mexico and thus eligible to receive citizenship rights. Ángela's strong reaction to the official's request that “they go back to where they came from” is evidence that she does not perceive herself or her children as victims of the officials. She is aware of the rights to which her children are entitled, although she feels she does not hold these same rights.

Experiencing Everyday Restriction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Everyday State and Restriction
  4. Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach
  5. The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context
  6. The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction
  7. Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas
  8. Experiencing Everyday Restriction
  9. Conclusions
  10. References

Central American immigrant women's discussions of their experiences highlight that encounters with low-level officials and state agencies are rife with negative experiences, which are invisible in macro-scale accounts of migration regulation. However, if these negative experiences are to constitute a more subtle, everyday form of restriction, as this article proposes, we must consider the reverberations of these encounters in the everyday lives of Central American women and their families. The impacts range from the immediate – like being barred access to social programs, including health care, and schooling – to the major problem of not possessing legal identity or nationality/citizenship and the myriad of unseen consequences that seep into many facets of women's lives. Two examples of these consequences include deepening of poverty and legal non-existence.

Deepening of Poverty due to Barred Access to Legal Citizenship

Everyday restriction manifests when low- to mid-level officials consciously or unknowingly block immigrants’ access to vital documents or services through their mundane actions. As we have seen, women can be denied access to social programs and rights either due to these officials’ unlawful behavior or because they do not hold the appropriate visa. One tangible impact of being denied access to much-needed social welfare programs is a deepening of poverty or increased difficulty in overcoming poverty. The following narrative of Consuelo's life in Tapachula reflects how refusal of services and pervasive barriers to the regularization of her immigration status translate into tangible impacts on her family's livelihood and well-being.

For one of our many meetings, I met Consuelo on her dusty patio outside the one-room home she shared with her two Mexican-born children and her partner. They live together on a plot in an informal settlement that they are in the process of regularizing – that is, becoming formally incorporated into the city and its infrastructure – a battle that they are at risk of losing since the land they are occupying is on the banks of a wide creek, making the zone particularly vulnerable to severe flooding during the rainy season. As we sat together on well-used plastic chairs, Consuelo explained how her economic situation worsened after she was refused pre-natal care, as discussed above:

I became pregnant with my daughter and we had to go live in a smaller room because I had symptoms of a miscarriage and so, my husband said, “we can't pay both things, so we need to pay for the clinic.” The hospital refused me because I'm a foreigner and I don't have papers. So my husband said, “I'm going to work very, very hard and you're going to go have your child at Clinic X”6 – that's a private clinic that's expensive but we didn't have any other option.

With a family of three living in a small room, over the years, Consuelo's economic situation deteriorated even further as she stopped working in order to take care of her daughter and then became pregnant with a second child. Finally, after an intense argument with an enrollment specialist, in which her partner swapped his coverage for hers,7 she was finally able to obtain health insurance with her second child, but her lack of documentation has affected her in many other ways. With two children to support in Mexico and two in Honduras under the care of her mother, Consuelo deals with the sadness and guilt of having left her children behind without being able to provide for them:

Consuelo:

It was so difficult to leave my children – they were there standing in the doorway and it hurts my soul – it still hurts…

Lindsey:

Have you been able to visit?

Consuelo:

No, I haven't had the money, so I haven't been able to. Sometimes I send them money, and sometimes I don't. They tell me “don't worry mami, here my mamá8 is supporting us,” yes, but my obligation as a mother is to send them their money. But, for example, today the little girl [her daughter in Mexico] didn't go to school because I didn't give her any breakfast until this señor [signals to the gentleman inside talking with her partner] came over to bring us food. As God is great and sends his angels to help us, this gentleman came over and gave us breakfast to eat…but she didn't go to school and this is the problem.

One way for Consuelo and other Central American immigrants in her position to theoretically guarantee access to basic human services to which they are legally entitled would be to regularize their immigration status by applying for the FM2 visa. However, Consuelo's unsuccessful efforts to regularize her immigration status are illustrative of the patterns outlined in the previous section. Misinformation, inconsistency, and lack of coordination on the part of low-level officials in the immigration office and in her home country's consulate have converged to create a veritable labyrinth, preventing her from obtaining the documentation that would technically allow her to enjoy her rights. Consuelo has consistently made an effort to obtain her FM2 visa to no avail because of corrupt officials or poor implementation of policy. As she recognizes, having papers is the only way she will be able to get ahead, “…here there are no opportunities for one as a foreigner, if I wanted to work at a company (una empresa) I can't because I don't have papers. I would like to start my own business, and I can't because the opportunities to do so are only for Mexican women, they aren't for foreign people and that's why I would like to get my papers (arreglar mis papeles).” Consuelo's ultimate professional goals are to obtain a micro-loan, install an oven on her property, learn to bake bread and cakes, and sell them in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Interviews and workshops with other women indicate that though many immigrants intended to apply for these visas, the cost, amount of paper work, lack of proper identification, time, and knowledge of the application process were major deterrents to a successful application (see also, Zúñiga, 2011; Scott Vázquez, 2012). Without the FM3 or FM2, participants are not able to engage in regular work, and are sometimes denied birth certificates for their Mexican-born children, or are unable to register their Mexican-born or Central American-born children in school. Blocking children's right to legal identity and education directly violates the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966), to which Mexico is a signatory. The following fieldnote illustrates how the bureaucratic process administered by individual officials both in Mexican agencies and in the Honduran Consulate has truncated Consuelo's access to rights.

Fieldnote 1/23/2012

This morning I met Doña Consuelo and her two little children at the Honduran Consulate. It was closed because they were finally moving into the new consular building – a move they had delayed, even though all the other consulates had been there for almost a year. We took a cab to the consulate and climbed the stairs to the second floor. At first the guard wouldn't let us in because they were moving-in and cleaning. But we pushed and she went to ask if we could talk to someone. The receptionist came out – she said she couldn't do anything for us today because they didn't have anything set up but that on Wednesday, she could. Again, I interjected and said we only had one question – and she said ok. Consuelo asked if they were giving out passports, and they said that maybe in February…The continuing problem with this Consulate is that they don't process passports or any other type of document in their office… So, I asked then about the constancia [document of proof] that I was told about last year that could be used in place of passport – constancia de no tramitar [document to prove that passport could not be processed] – stating that the person couldn't travel to get the passport. She asked me who told me about this, I said the woman at the desk a few months ago. She said she would call migración to see if they would accept a letter like that… I wonder what they do for everyone else that doesn't have a passport? Anyway, she said she'd call us back.

The above field note reiterates a common description of the barriers to receiving services that immigrants encounter, which largely play out at the micro-scale, as established earlier, such as red tape and runarounds as well as the fact that passports are not readily available to Central American immigrants. For example, solicitants must present a valid passport from their home country in order to file for an FM3 or FM2 visa, but over the years that requirement has been waived during some of the regularization campaigns. Though this was indeed a positive for many immigrants, in some ways, it also creates confusion and the hope or expectation that the requirement might be waived again. As demonstrated in interviews and workshops undertaken for this study, most Central American immigrants do not have a passport from their home country upon their initial arrival. The research also indicates that the Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Honduran consulates in Tapachula do not always have the ability to furnish their co-nationals with these passports. As a result, applicants must return to their home countries to apply for and obtain the passports. Without a passport or other forms of ID (which undocumented immigrants also commonly lack), any travel across international borders is precarious, leaving the traveler open to detention by state authorities and exploitation by criminal groups as undocumented travelers must utilize clandestine routes and at great expense. It serves as an example of the complexity that produces uncertainty and leaves immigrants in precarious positions lacking basic rights and vulnerable to deepening poverty and abuse.

At the time of this research, the local Honduran consulate stopped issuing passports after a scandal, during which consulate employees were accused of stealing applicants’ payments and then never furnishing the passports (Asume Nuevo Cónsul De Honduras En Tapachula, 2011). Consuelo's neighbor was one of the applicants affected. Applicants’ money was never returned, neither were their passports ever produced. After a new consul was installed, there was news that they would start printing passports again. However, during fieldwork visits to the consulate, we were told each time that some technical difficulty or a botched delivery of equipment would hold up the process a few more months. This example shows the similarities between Honduran and Mexican bureaucracy, indicating that this problem impacts immigrants both in Mexico and in sending countries.

Another option for Consuelo would be to take advantage of the National Institute of Migration's (INM) periodic regularization campaigns that lessen requirements and paperwork burdens in order to allow applicants in situations similar to hers, to access documents without a passport. These programs generally provided a grace period of a year (until renewal) to provide a passport. However, when a local human rights organization informed her of the 2011 campaign, Consuelo went to the INM office only to be turned away rudely by the guard – not an immigration agent – who said that there was no current campaign and that without a passport she would not get her documents. Still, Consuelo had hoped that another option existed that we had been told had worked in the past (but not guaranteed) by community members, the human rights organization, and the consulate. This would involve having the consulate write a letter verifying Consuelo's identity and explaining the impossibility of her obtaining a passport. I went to the INM personally to verify this information and spoke with a mid-level agent on duty at the time who reported that since the new delegate to the INM had taken office, this was no longer an option and that she did not foresee any new campaigns in the future even though they had become a yearly occurrence under previous delegates. This underscores the discretion individual officials can hold in implementing policy.

Consuelo's final option would be to return to Honduras to take advantage of a same-day passport service. She had not returned to her native country in the years that she had been in Tapachula – it was too expensive and too risky to endure with two small children. To return, Consuelo explained that she would have to travel by bus, possibly changing buses in several locations to save money. Since she does not have valid identification or a passport she would have to first enter Guatemala at an unofficial border crossing, travel through Guatemala and then cross into her native Honduras at another unofficial border crossing – on a makeshift raft or by swimming – to avoid being questioned or extorted.

Consuelo's experience demonstrates that regardless of the availability of political citizenship for immigrants in Chiapas, they confront excessive barriers to avail of citizenship rights both in Mexico and at home. Despite her earnest attempts to obtain her visa, she was met with a complicated web of extra-official, official, and external factors that prevented her from enjoying a right that “on paper” should have been available to her. It is commonplace that policies and regulations change when new officials are instated, with the passage of new laws, and with the changing roles of the consulates and migrants’ rights non-profits. In practice, individual actors and institutions can and often do interpret policies as they wish; and irregularities or events that interfere with institutions’ implementation of policies often go uncorrected, causing delays and lapses in service delivery that not only produce inconveniences for clients, but also prevent them from claiming other related services. It seems that for an immigrant to be successful in applying for regularization, he or she would have to possess a considerable amount of social capital – in this case, connections to more powerful people, and education – along with the financial ability to pay for legal advice, the processing fees, transportation costs, and missed hours and days at work.

It is important to understand the complexity of the situations, like Consuelo's, that produce such uncertainty and leave immigrants with little protections, because they represent the ways in which the state fails in implementing its policy. Indeed, not holding an FM2 visa could also be used as an excuse for low- to mid-level officials to informally deny rights to which immigrants are entitled. Participants recounted stories of how they, or others they knew, were unfairly asked for proof of legal residence in order to obtain birth certificates for their children or to register them in schools. Unfortunately, it is not only immigration officials who are able to informally deny rights, but banks also deny services to immigrants without an FM2. For some immigrants interviewed, receiving the benefits of social programs is necessary for feeding their families; sending children to school, treating illnesses, and having basic, stable housing.

Non-Existence

Other impacts of everyday restriction are the consequences of legal non-existence (Coutin, 2003). Michaela, a Guatemalan mother who has lived in Tapachula for 24 years, grew tired of being denied services because she was unable to get a visa or because officials’ wrongly turned her away. Her experience, in addition to all of the negative run-ins with officials she has heard about from friends, has caused her to believe that even if she had a document legalizing her status in Mexico, she would still not be able to enjoy the rights that she knows she deserves. She explained:

All of this is a dilemma that will never end. I watch the news, and the government, for as much as it says that it's democratic… they claim that Mexicans as much as non-Mexicans who live here have the same rights, because that's what the law says. We [immigrants] have Mexican children – which is supposed to mean that we have the right to everything, something that is not true, at least not in my case…We're here as if we didn't exist in the country of Mexico, why? Because there is no document that legally protects you that says you do [exist]. The ones that do exist here – maybe – are our children, but we don't, as I repeat to you, those documents are worthless… With the FM3, I should get the opportunity to ask for a loan, or maybe have a doctor, more than anything for my kids, but for me, no this isn't the case – you realize that we don't exist.

For Michaela, laws that boast equality and fair treatment for immigrants living in Tapachula are not enforced. Her feeling of non-existence is one that has been documented by Susan Bibler Coutin (2003), who demonstrated that the effects of living in a “space of non-existence” weigh heavily and produce insecurity and vulnerability in many aspects of daily life. Even though Michaela feels that existing options for visas do not offer her protections, she longs for the paper that actually would give validity to her existence in Mexico, a paper that would furnish the rights to do what citizens do – including the right to enroll in an adult education program, have access to micro-credit loans, and have health insurance for her children – so much would improve for her and her family.

Similarly, when Mexican-born children are denied birth certificates because of their parents’ immigration status, they bear consequences that have far-reaching effects in their lives. Indeed, being without a birth certificate is not a problem that only affects children, but also adults; this is partly a result of the fact that it becomes harder to obtain a birth certificate as a person ages. Raquel, the young Honduran mother introduced earlier, explained the significance of her being denied a birth certificate for her daughter, who was around five years old at the time: “Well, she doesn't exist – there's no girl – she doesn't study, she doesn't have insurance, nor many government benefits, she doesn't have anything; she's no one. She has no identity: no one knows who she is.” Raquel's startlingly sober assessment of her daughter's situation summarizes so clearly the predicament of many children of Central American parents. Children who go through life without a birth certificate do not hold legal citizenship, and thus despite being born in Mexico, are at risk of being viewed as stateless in the eyes of the law, leaving them, in effect with even fewer rights than their undocumented immigrant parents, who at least hold citizenship in their country of origin.

After Hurricane Stan destroyed their home in 2005, Raquel and her husband were forced to return to their native Honduras with their then one-year-old daughter. Three years after their return to Honduras, Raquel's family made decisions to return to Tapachula from Honduras, based on the fact that their daughter did not have a birth certificate at the time, which meant that she had few opportunities to receive an education in Honduras. In Tapachula, birth certificates are required for inscription in public schools. She explained, explained, “more than anything because I didn't have papers for my daughter, how was I going to put her in school or anything? So I had to come back to put her name in the register here, so she could study.” According to Raquel, they were not able to obtain a birth certificate for their daughter in Honduras, either, since she was born in Mexico. Out of fear of the consequences of their own undocumented status, they had not registered her in Mexico before they left – a fact they later regretted. Raquel lamented, “I think I was the one in the wrong, because I should have done that paperwork, but she was already one year old and I was afraid to go register her because I thought, ‘they're going to take her away from me’. It was because of fear that I didn't try to register her.”

According to participants, at some schools in Tapachula, students without a birth certificate are turned away immediately, while at the majority, children without birth certificates are accepted as auditors, or oyentes, upon the condition that their parents will register them as soon as possible. Official policy is to allow students to attend schools as auditors if they do not have a birth certificate. However, if a student finishes elementary school without a birth certificate, their studies will not be considered valid (they receive no certificado or certificate) and they will not be allowed to enter secondary school. Teachers and principals often assume that obtaining a birth certificate is simple; however, as evidenced above, for Central American immigrants facing various barriers, obtaining one can be particularly hard. Thus, despite the universal right of all children to receive free public education in Mexico, regardless of nationality, until the completion of secondary school, the system excludes Mexican-born children of Central American immigrants who do not have birth certificates. As evidenced above, this scenario is often the result of the states’ failure to regulate bureaucrats; the lack of reliable and accurate information; economic marginalization; and blatant discrimination.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Everyday State and Restriction
  4. Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach
  5. The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context
  6. The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction
  7. Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas
  8. Experiencing Everyday Restriction
  9. Conclusions
  10. References

The experiences of Central American women living, working, and raising families in Tapachula indicate that despite the existence of policies that should protect them, they face excessive barriers to the enjoyment of rights guaranteed to them by law. In the cases described here, low- to mid-level officials using their power as representatives of the state reformulate, interpret, and implement policies in their daily work. The above examples demonstrate that officials’ actions can be subtle and may not always consist of outward negations of rights, but of insults, or simply adding arbitrary extra requirements. Regardless of the forms they take, officials’ negations of immigrant women's rights produces severe, and marked consequences in their lives, ranging from lack of access to identity for children, education, financial services, and social welfare programs. Unchecked, these practices are a form of everyday restriction, which has many consequences for Central American women and their families’ enjoyment of social and political citizenship rights and livelihoods. In shifting the scale of analysis to that of the everyday, this research also draws attention to a less-studied trend in the phenomenon of Central American migrants’ experiences in Mexico, a key to the study of South–South migration, due to the importance of the migration of Central Americans in the North American system, but also because of the changing landscapes of migration in Mexico. A major question has yet to be investigated: will Central American permanent immigration to Mexico increase in the coming years, and as it does, how will Mexico shape its immigration policy? Largely, the focus is still on transmigrants in the law and in academic accounts. By focusing on the everyday lives of immigrants in the city, it is evident that Tapachula is not merely a stopping point for transmigrants, but it is also a destination for immigrants.

Though it has not been the intention of this article to understand motivations for officials’ behavior, we may speculate that they perform their work within complex institutional networks and face internal and external pressures that could influence their actions. Preliminary results of this research indicate that resource scarcity, lack of training, the pressures of their jobs as well as an overarching climate of discrimination against migrants all seem to play a role in their decisions. Future research will need to address their role more critically to fully comprehend their positioning and experiences in order to create effective and appropriate policies that protect immigrants.

In applying a feminist geopolitical analysis, this paper uncovers the subtleties of everyday restriction for Central American women in Tapachula and in so doing, it reaffirms the need for feminist studies of migration policy, policy implementation, and the impacts of such policies on often overlooked populations. In particular, the findings contribute standing literature on micro-level state actors and enforcement and regulation of migration by highlighting the diverse actors that make up the state, beyond immigration agents, as well as underscoring the gap between official policy and implementation. Without placing close attention to the subtleties of micro-scale of enforcement, it would be difficult to understand how immigrants interface with the institutions that are charged with serving them, and thus, we will never be able to improve this service delivery. Progressive policy measures are ineffective without close examination and restructuring of implementation practices. For state- and national-level measures in Mexico to serve their professed objectives of protecting migrants’ human rights, we must focus on how they are implemented on an everyday basis.

Notes
  1. 1

    During the last months of research in 2012, and at the time of writing, regularization campaigns were suspended.

  2. 2

    Mexico also created a new visa for temporary workers along the border or the, Forma Migratoria del Trabajador Fronterizo (FMTF), which allows Guatemalans and Belizeans to work in any sector along the border.

  3. 3

    This statement refers to after the child is born.

  4. 4

    El otro lado, “the other side,” as in the other side of the border.

  5. 5

    Throughout the following scene excerpts, “scene notes” are in italics and provide important details about how the scene was acted out by characters, and audience participation. The scene notes were aggregated after reviewing notes and photographs and listening to workshop recordings.

  6. 6

    The name of the clinic has been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participant.

  7. 7

    This unorthodox occurrence is another example that underscores officials’ discretionary power and arbitrary actions.

  8. 8

    During fieldwork I often overheard children raised in extended families call their grandmothers “mamá” the Spanish for “mom,” instead of “abuela/abuelita” which is Spanish for grandmother. This could be related to the fact that childrearing is much more of a collective experience in many places Mexico and Central America, but it also hints to the fact that so many grandparents have taken on the roles of primary caregivers to their grandchildren as their own children migrate.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Everyday State and Restriction
  4. Experiencing Restriction: A Qualitative Approach
  5. The “Friendly Border?” Policy and Settlement Context
  6. The Subtle Realities of Everyday Restriction
  7. Arbitrary Requirements: Obstructed by Papeleo and Vueltas
  8. Experiencing Everyday Restriction
  9. Conclusions
  10. References