Theses Doctoral

The Paradoxes of Im/mobility in Central American Transit Migration in Mexico

Wurtz, Heather Marie

This study examines the various ways that Central American migrants traversing Mexico’s southern border interpret, negotiate, and resist conditions of immobilization imposed by state refugee policy and other institutional impediments to northbound movement. My findings are informed by 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Tapachula, Chiapas, followed by an additional six, non-consecutive weeks in various sites of transit across Mexico as a Human Rights Observer in the migrant caravans of 2017 and 2018.

Since 2011, as a result of increasing rates of violence, flows of Central American women, youth, and families across Mexico’s southern border have risen substantially. In efforts to curb northbound movement, the US has exerted significant pressure for the Mexican government to assume a greater role in the retention, organization, and deterrence of prospective refugee populations, resulting in the temporary resettlement along the southern border of thousands of migrants seeking international protection. Many of these migrants find themselves in a liminal space of legal and social uncertainty in which they must contend with a range of limitations and distinct possibilities as they consider their ongoing trajectories.

Through close attention to the social worlds that emerge around and within migrants’ transit communities, I explore central themes related to the existentiality of im/mobility, gendered experiences of transit migration, the paradoxes of institutional practices of refugee protection within predominant transit zones, and diverse forms of resilience and coping that are given breadth through collective travel. Ultimately, I argue that it is critical to explore the narratives and lived realities of those most affected by migration-centered policy and discourse, and to recognize the critical role that migrants play in challenging and reimagining the terms of their in/exclusion.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociomedical Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Sharp, Lesley Alexandra
Hirsch, Jennifer S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2021