SBS Leads Study on Border Migration, Violence, Security

The UA and its Mexico-U.S. partners will gather quantitative and qualitative data over the coming year from people who have recent undocumented border crossing experiences and have been returned to Mexico by U.S. authorities.

The largest binational border research project ever undertaken to collect data on migration, violence and security will be led by the University of Arizona.

Researchers have begun cataloguing more than 500 hours of interviews documenting first-hand experiences from migrants in shelters in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

The project pairs an interdisciplinary team of researchers in Mexico with U.S. researchers along the border in San Diego/Tijuana, Tucson/Nogales, El Paso/Juarez, Matamoros and Mexicali. The border cities chosen represent 88 percent of all U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement apprehensions, 79 percent of all border deaths and 87 percent of all marijuana seizures in 2009.

Universities partnering in the study include The Colegio de Sonora, the University of Texas El Paso, the Universidad Autonoma de Cuidad Juarez, San Diego State University, Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Notre Dame University, Portland State University and New Mexico State.

The Ford Foundation is funding the $100,000-plus project, which will gather quantitative and qualitative data over the coming year from people who have recent undocumented border crossing experiences and have been returned to Mexico by U.S. authorities.

"There is remarkably little scholarship binationally that has looked at migration from a multidisciplinary aspect from both sides of the border. Our team is made up of geographers, anthropologists, sociologists scholars in public policy, political science and ethnic studies, and will include student research opportunities on either side of the border," said Scott Whiteford, the project's principal investigator and the director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the UA.

The study builds upon the work of UA sociologists Kraig Beyerlein and Daniel E. Martinez and his Migrant Border Crossing Survey within the Arizona-Sonoran border, which produced the framework and lines of inquiry for this UA border-wide study. Both Martinez and Beyerlein are involved with the Ford Foundation project, with Martinez participating as a co-principal investigator, or Co-PI.

According to Jeremy Slack, graduate research associate and Co-PI, the study will gather surveys that will chronicle the different aspects of violence along the border. This includes physical violence from guides, border agents or drug cartels; structural violence, experienced through deterrence by region such as those crossing through the desert or the abuses resulting in the lack of payment for work and the fear of reporting it; or symbolic violence, experienced through treating migrants as dangerous criminals, with shackles and being verbally abused by authorities.

"So far with the data collected from the Nogales shelters, we know people are having different experiences per region crossed. U.S. laws vary by region, and many crossers report that when they are apprehended, they go through many exchanges and have no idea what agency initially or currently has apprehended them," Slack added.

The study will produce in-depth case studies by region with an edited volume containing all findings. The Woodrow Wilson Center for Public Policy at the Mexico Institute in Washington D.C. will oversee the group's work and also publish public policy recommendations by the group at the end of the study.

The research team is working to create a comparative analysis of the border-crossing experience, documenting how it is different and similar by region and how the social networks of the migrants' origin affect paths and circumstances. Team members also want to understand why the decision to cross was made and what the expectation is upon arriving in the U.S. and document any activities of drug cartels, bandits and coyotes in the migrant border crossing experience.

Added Slack: "Our goal is to give migrants a voice and to be able to document their experience of the border as they have lived it and ultimately provide solid data to back policy decisions along border issues."

By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, University Communications, September 28, 2010