Chiapas, located on the southern border of Mexico, not only plays an important role in the passage of migrants from Central America and other regions of the world, or as temporary or permanent destination of agricultural laborers and domestic workers, it is also a place of origin and return for a significant number of Chiapan migrants moving to other states in Mexico and to the United States of America (USA). In the last 20 years, around 450,000 Chiapan migrants have taken part in international migration. Even greater is the number of Chiapan migrants who have moved to the Yucatan Peninsula and large cities in Central and Western Mexico to work in construction, tourist services, and other urban development. Another important and growing group are seasonal agricultural workers in the Bajío region and Northern Mexico.
65 percent of Chiapan migrants are peasants and indigenous people. The needs of these groups have not received attention from public authorities and from civil society. The last state administration (2006-2012) and the present (2013-2018) have implemented programs and actions to protect migrants that have an emphasis on transmigration: attending migrants, mostly Central Americans, in their transit through Chiapas. Also, the effectiveness of these measures has been challenged because of how they are contingent on federal immigration policy whose predominant focus continues to be national security. In addition, these policies do not take into account the particular conditions of indigenous regions with the highest poverty rates, and consequently the higher rates of emigration. Finally, there is no state legislative framework to give continuity to the initiatives, inter-agency and interstate coordination, and citizen oversight.
A current problem in Chiapas is that government agencies have not paid necessary attention to the socio-cultural, demographic and economic changes linked to the emigration and return of Chiapan migrants. Therefore, the agencies ignore most of the many problems these migrants face, which as a consequence results in the demands of this sector of the population being neglected. While there is an office for Chiapans abroad (Oficina de Atención a Chiapanecos en el Exterior) in the structure of state government, its resources, mechanisms, and services are very limited.
Voces Mesoamericanas identifies three central issues that link exclusion, inequality, and human mobility, especially affecting indigenous migrants, particularly those from regions recently affected by international and interstate migration. All three issues require urgent measures and actions:
Extreme poverty, violence, and migration of children and adolescents
Chiapas has become the state with the highest percentage of population in poverty. The need for survival of 300,782,000 people living in poverty in Chiapas, equivalent to 74.7% of its population (Coneval, 2012), will continue to push undocumented migration, especially of young people and children under 17 years that are the groups most affected by violence and poverty in the country. The report Poverty and social rights of children and adolescents in Mexico 2010-2012, prepared jointly by UNICEF in Mexico and Coneval revealed that 53.8% of children and adolescents under 17 live in poverty and 12.1 in extreme poverty. One of the most tragic cases is that of children in indigenous communities, nearly eight in 10 (78.5%) suffer from poverty, and one in three of them live in extreme poverty.
Forced return and without options for reintegration
The annual average of returned Chiapan migrants who are apprehended and returned by US migration authorities is 17,000 migrants, according to official data from the National Institute of Migration of Mexico, as well as those returning voluntarily. Deported or repatriated migrants do not have any mechanism to ensure their protection during their journey back to their hometowns, or that addresses their family situation or property and belongings they could have left in the USA. Numerous documented cases indicate that returning Chiapan migrants do not have the necessary resources to ensure a safe transfer to their home communities, and the return is made outside of normal schedules and locations, leaving them at the mercy of groups of organized crime. The policies of the State generate death and violence against migrants, and a host of trauma and negative aspects that affect migrant subjectivity.
Nor is there a mechanism to address the needs of longer-term reintegration of the returnee population, both economically and socially. This is particularly serious for young people between 15 and 25 years of age, as they often face obstacles to social and productive reintegration into their communities. The social capital that migrants have accumulated throughout their migrant experience is not recognized or valued by their communities, and there are no public policies that create potential for contributions to social life. Returning migrants are invisible in migration policy. The federal government allocates resources to states to attend migrants through the Migrant Support Fund (Fondo de Apoyo a Migrantes or “FAM”) created in 2010, but Chiapas is not included in the budget allocation. Economic and social reintegration of the returnee population in Chiapas has not been a priority to which resources are allocated.
Invisibility and violation of social and labor rights of migrant laborers
The state of Chiapas contains 15% of the approximately 2 million farm workers in the country. They are mostly indigenous workers who migrate and work in agricultural fields in the northwest region of Mexico (Sinaloa, Sonora and Baja California) for periods of up to six months where they find themselves in inhumane conditions of labor exploitation and social exclusion. The conditions of poverty and inequality affecting indigenous people in Los Altos de Chiapas, coupled with the resulting wage differentials, pushes agricultural workers in the region to move to areas with shortages of local labor and high demand for the work of agricultural migrant laborers. They are contracted regardless of age or sex, between 8 and 10 hours per day on average, and receive 1.6 daily minimum wage according to the National Day Labor Survey (Encuesta Nacional de Jornaleros or “ENJO”) in 2009. The situation of violation of social and labor rights of the mainly indigenous day laborer population in Mexico is found to be invisible.
The impossibility of including thousands of young people who swell the economically active population in Mexico and Chiapas in productive and social initiatives will increase pressure and social unrest. In the social and economic context of the US and Mexico, it is likely that migration flows to Northern Mexico and the US will increase, as well as the social and human costs along migration routes and the crossing of internal and national borders.
The creation of strategies and public policies that respond to these issues not only depends on the sensitivity and political will of the state authorities, but also the social pressure that organized migrants can exercise with greater knowledge about their rights and capacity for advocacy.
In the current context, it is necessary for organized civil society to contribute to the creation and management of policies that improve the access of migrants and their families to justice and rights. Also, their participation is necessary in the design of mechanisms to improve the accountability of the agencies that should promote access to justice and the rights of this population.
To overcome the romantic conception of migration, and to consider it both as social movements in which new mechanisms are incorporated for domination and exploitation, as well as new practices of freedom and equality, is a necessary condition for migrants to emerge as social and political subjects. Voces Mesoamericanas strives to recognize migrants as social actors that carry out processes of grassroots transnationalization, and observes migratory movements and conflicts from a perspective that prioritizes the subjective practices, desires, expectations and behaviors of migrants themselves.
Superar la concepción romántica de las migraciones, y considerarla como movimientos sociales en los que se incorporan nuevos dispositivos de dominación y explotación, así como nuevas prácticas de libertad e igualdad, es una condición para que las personas migrantes emerjan como sujetos sociales y políticos. Voces Mesoamericanas plantea reconocer a las y los migrantes como sujetos sociales que protagonizan procesos de una transnacionalización desde abajo, y observar los movimientos y conflictos migratorios desde una perspectiva que priorice las prácticas subjetivas, los deseos, las expectativas y los comportamientos de los propios migrantes.