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This volume focuses on recent experiences of return migration to Mexico and Central America from the United States. For most of the twentieth century, return migration to the US was a normal part of the migration process from Mexico and Central America, typically resulting in the eventual permanent settlement of migrants in the US. In recent years, however, such migration has become involuntary, as a growing proportion of return migration is taking place through formal orders of deportation. This book discusses return migration to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, addressing different reasons for return, whether voluntary or involuntary, and highlighting the unique challenges faced by returnees to each region. Particular emphasis is placed on the lack of government and institutional policies in place for returning migrants who wish to attain work, training, or shelter in their home countries. Finally, the authors take a look at the phenomenon of migrants who can never return because they have disappeared during the migration process. Through its multinational focus, diverse thematic outlook, and use of ethnographic and survey methods, this volume provides an original contribution to the topic of return migration and broadens the scope of the literature currently available. As such, this book will be important to scholars and students interested in immigration policy and Latin America as well as policy makers and activists.





Voluntary and Involuntary Return Migration

Mexican migration to the United States long exhibited a strong circular pattern, as Mexican migrants returned annually to Mexico after working in US agriculture or other industries. With increased enforcement, undocumented migration from Mexico increasingly took on a permanent character. In addition, Central American migrants could not return to the areas of conflict they fled, and the long distances from their nations of origin made seasonal migration impractical. In recent years, return migration for Mexicans and Central Americans has changed, both in nature and in composition. The renewed significance of return migration is not due to its becoming once again a normal part of the migration process, but to its increasingly involuntary nature as a growing proportion of return migration is taking place in the context of U.S. enforcement practices. Voluntary return involves planning and preparation, but deportation or quasi-involuntary return gives migrants little opportunity to arrange their affairs. The potential difficulties of adjustment that this implies for returnees have become, as we show in this volume, challenging issues not only for returnees, but for their communities and for public policy. The chapters in this book place return migration experiences within the context of the economic, social, and political forces that have determined international migration, return to countries of destination, and settlement in countries of origin. Although there are important differences in the nature of Mexican return migration as compared to Central America, the contributions to this volume demonstrate significant similarities, including poverty in those countries and lack of employment opportunities and of government or institutional policies to receive the returnees.
Bryan Roberts, Cecilia Menjívar, Néstor P. Rodríguez

Migration Times and Ethnic Identity: Mexican Migration to the US Over Three Generations

This chapter uses census material and interviews with three generations of Mexican migrants to the US to explore the changing meaning of migration for family strategies of survival and how it affects transnational identities in both the US and Mexico. Using the concepts of family time and industrial time (labor markets and urbanization), and adding that of migration time (the dominant US migration policy), it looks at migrant family economies and the different ways family members adapted to historical changes in industrial time and migration time. The paper begins with the Bracero Program (1941–1962) and continues with the surge in undocumented migration from the 1970s and the peak in the 1990s, ending in the present when non-visa net migration to the US is close to zero. The drastic change in migration policy with the border blockade of the new millennium has paradoxically locked temporary undocumented migrants into the United States. This has helped create a new demographic in the US in which Hispanic children, mainly of Mexican origin, are the largest single ethnic component in the school-age population in many cities and states. It also weakens transnational ties with Mexico at the same time as the rise in involuntary deportations increases the insecurity of a substantial portion of the Mexican-born population in the US.
Bryan Roberts

Voluntary and Non-Voluntary Return


From Mexico to Hawaii: Tracing the Migration History of One Family in Esperanza, Jalisco

Whether a migrant’s journey is considered a success or a failure, the decision to return to the home often implies returning to difficult economic conditions. In the cases of migrants from rural villages, they may well return to the same precarious circumstances that compelled them to leave in the first place. The chapter discusses this phenomenon through the presentation of a traditional sending village in rural Central-Western Mexico where residents have a long established relationship with the tourism industry in Hawaii. In tracing the origins of this relationship, anthropological techniques of extended case studies and situational analysis were used to document one family’s five-generational migration history, spanning from 1878 to the present. The patterns coaxed out of this rich data show how a single family developed networks intimately linking this isolated rural village to Hawaii. These findings are shown through the contrasts in the cases of two brothers who have returned to the village and the diverse tactics they employ in order to get by. They, like many residents in the village, have returned after multiple trips illegally crossing into the United States, hoping to live out a dream of idyllic farming only to rediscover that small-scale agriculture is uncompetitive in a globalized marketplace.
Joshua Greene

Driven “Home”: Stories of Voluntary and Involuntary Reasons for Returning Among Migrants in Jalisco and Oaxaca, Mexico

Recent studies suggest a major shift in the Mexico-U.S. migratory circuit: that more Mexican nationals are returning to Mexico than are migrating to the U.S. With a focus on undocumented returnees, who face unique challenges to future re-migration to the U.S. given the current border restrictions, this chapter considers why they return to Mexico from the U.S. when they do. To answer this question, the discussion in the chapter draws on data collected via 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in 10 hometowns of returnees in Jalisco and Oaxaca, Mexico, including 50 interviews with deportees and voluntary returnees. These data illuminate a multiplicity of circumstances under which undocumented migrants go back to Mexico. In particular, the circumstances that primarily drive these migrants to return fall under three broad categories: their participation in the market economy in the U.S.; their participation in a gift economy with family and community members in Mexico; and their encounters with the U.S. state’s system of immigration enforcement. These findings problematize the voluntary/involuntary binary, complicating our understanding of what it means to return to Mexico “voluntarily” or “involuntarily”, as well as what comprises “home” for Mexican migrants.
Christine Wheatley

Return Migrants and Potential Challenges for Future Legal Migration: Guatemalan Cases

Mayan migration from Guatemala to the United States is a phenomenon that began in the later 1970s and early 1980s. It has been traced to the intense experience of violence, known as the “scorched earth” policy, adopted by the Guatemalan government during the 1980s as a means to defeat the guerrillas. Guatemala’s difficult conditions and the transnational social networks migrants created facilitated increased migration from the 1990s until today. The 1986 amnesty bill signed by President Ronald Reagan made 50,000 Guatemalans eligible to become permanent residents. At the same time, the 1986 law provided the first legal structures to criminalize undocumented U.S. workers and employers. In 1996, new legislation built upon this structure and detailed individual acts and convictions, e.g. as small as not wearing a seat belt, to affect whether a current or hopeful migrant could be denied an immigrant benefit in the United States. The evidence shows how public sentiment has led legislatures to expand enforcement policies that have harmed migrants, damaged American towns and cities, and created problems for migrant integration in sending countries. The presentation in this chapter builds upon the expansion of the liberal democratic paradox, giving evidence that immigration policy is damaging our commitment to enhance and promote family unification that was established by the 1965 migration legislation. Based on fieldwork in sending communities in the Guatemalan highlands, this chapter evaluates potential consequences of future immigration reform by looking at current consequences of immigration law for the Guatemalan respondents interviewed in the study.
Paul Kasun



Fragmented Identities: Contention of Space and Identity Among Salvadoran Deportees

The focus of this chapter is on male, Salvadoran deportees, aged 20–35, who after spending their formative years in the United States are faced with the task of reintegrating into Salvadoran society. Through this sample, the chapter explores the experience of deportees in the growing call-center sector and the consequences of deportation on their lives. Specifically, the chapter highlights (1) the experience of young, male deportees in call-centers, (2) their networks of support, (3) and the recent evolution of Salvadoran migration policy. El Salvador’s growing call-center industry serves as the backdrop, as a call-center was the site where the participants for the study were interviewed, and is a setting continuously framed as a site of criminality by local Salvadorans.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr.

Trapped at the Border: The Difficult Integration of Veterans, Families, and Christians in Tijuana

The chapter characterizes Tijuana, Mexico, as a deportation city partly due to the large numbers of Mexican migrants deported to the city by the U.S. government. Adjacent to Southern California, Tijuana has long been a major destination for Mexican migrants headed north to the United States. The chapter uses data from the Encuesta de Migración en la Frontera Norte de Mexico (Survey on Migration on the Northern Border of Mexico), as well as data from ethnographic observations, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and meetings with deported migrants, including deported U.S. war veterans and other deported migrants who have become members of a Christian church in Tijuana. Using these data sources, the chapter gives a demographic profile of the deportees in Tijuana. From a gender perspective, the chapter analyzes institutional and family conditions that facilitate the settlement of deportees in the city, or that lead to difficulties that drive deported migrants into situations of precariousness or exclusion. The analysis also focuses on the different strategies that deported parents undertake to cope with their forced return to Mexico and their separation from family remaining in the United States, as well as strategies to re-establish family relations along the divisive border.
M. Dolores París Pombo, Diana Buenrostro Mercado, Gabriel Pérez Duperou

Displacing Lives and Closing Pathways to Hope: The Health Impacts of Deportation and Return Migration in El Progreso, Honduras

The United States detains and deports over 400,000 people annually. A growing body of research on the health impacts of migration suggests that this large-scale return has important consequences for the health of deportees, their families, and their communities. This pilot study aimed to develop an initial characterization of the types of health impacts most commonly observed after deportees arrive in their countries of origin. Twenty-five semi-structured interviews were conducted with people deported from the U.S., their family members, and community leaders in the medium-sized Honduran city of El Progreso. Using mixed content analysis methodology, three major deportation-related health categories were identified: social and family stressors, economic deprivation, and exposure to violence. While some of the subthemes identified were described as positive (i.e. family reunification), the majority was associated with negative health impacts. These impacts extend to the broader community, contributing to local economic instability, insecurity, and destabilization. Notably, the negative health impacts of deportation were identified as key “push factors” that contribute to the local population’s desire to emigrate to the U.S. Thus, it is possible that deportation, promoted as a means of decreasing the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., is actually fueling additional unauthorized immigration while also contributing to the suffering of many Hondurans. The authors propose that future policy decisions on migration and deportation more actively incorporate public health perspectives in order to mitigate the health challenges facing Honduran migrants, their families, and their communities.
Juliana E. Morris, Daniel Palazuelos

The New Disappeared


Never to Return: The New Disappeared of El Salvador

For many families in Central American sending communities, the return of a migrant family member will never occur, or will occur only in the form of repatriated remains. Every year, Central American migrants die attempting to cross into the U.S. border region, while others are kidnapped and killed in Mexico by elements of organized crime with the complicity of government officials. The victims are often buried in nameless graves, leaving their families waiting for news of loved ones that will never return. These deaths and disappearances of Central American migrants are inextricably tied to a U.S. immigration policy that has dramatically increased control of the U.S. southwestern border region, and even reached into Mexico to tighten control of Mexico’s border with Central America. The deaths and disappearance of a large number of Salvadoran migrants on the journey to the United States represents another episode of violence and suffering for many Salvadoran families after the many years of deaths and disappearances experienced during El Salvador’s civil war. Coming together in a common search for disappeared migrant family members, Salvadoran mothers have developed collective efforts, such as through the Committee of Family Members of Migrants who have Died or Disappeared, to advocate for support and resources from government officials and institutions in their search for missing migrant children and other relatives, and for addressing the dangers migrants face in their migration to the United States.
Allison Ramirez


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