The Migrant Peacebuilding Project

Click here to edit subtitle

Newspaper and Magazine Articles About the Project:

view:  full / summary

Starting in New Jersey

Posted by Greg Morano on June 8, 2015 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (1)

We have been working hard to past few days to get our project started in New Jersey. We submitted the project to the Colby Institutional Review Board and they approved our proposed research and methodology. On Saturday we went to El Centro to reach out to the community and make sure all of our contacts were in place. We ended up leading a book club and it was good practice to dust off our Spanish in preparation for our interviews. After reading, we set up two interviews with two Guatemalan brothers.


We are currently in the process of reaching out to the rest of the migrant community through El Centro Hispanoamericano for interviews and other connections to help us with our research. Greg called fourteen Guatemalan migrants today and set up five more interviews. These interviews will be conducted over the next few weeks and we are very excited to get started! Tomorrow we are going to help out with distributing food from the emergency food pantry at el Centro and use that as a time to further our connection with the community and El Centro. We hope to bring our own food and beverages and receive a few more contacts and interviews before the start of the food pantry. We are looking forward to the next few weeks and are excited about how much we are going to learn.

Obama's Immigration Order and Its Potential Effects on Guatemalan Migrants

Posted by migrant.peacebuilding.project on January 17, 2015 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

By Greg Morano and Emily Muller

President Barack Obama’s executive order may set many important precedents for U.S. immigration policy in the years to come. As an executive order it is vulnerable to change, and the Republican controlled Congress will most likely overturn it in 2015. However, the order will influence future lawmakers and thus it must be taken into consideration when analyzing the impacts it may have on current and future immigrants.

The order seeks to accomplish four goals: strengthen border security, streamline legal migration, secure earned citizenship for non-criminals, and crack down on employers hiring undocumented workers. Overall, while the order will improve the lives of current undocumented immigrants living in the United States, it will make it much harder for future undocumented immigrants to enter the country and to receive employment. Specifically in terms of the estimated 652,000 Guatemalan undocumented immigrants on U.S. soil, the plan could prevent many stigmas of deportation and reintegration for future migrants, but it could worsen that of current undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The order would also lessen opportunities for future migrants attempting to secure job opportunities outside of Guatemala.

In terms of strengthening border security, this measure could prove costly not only for potential migrants, but for the Guatemalan economy as well. Even though the border will prove harder to cross, it will not stop migrants from attempting the dangerous journey. As the Roy Model of migratory economic opportunity indicates, Guatemalans with fewer skills can make much more money in the U.S. and will thus flee conditions such as a 54 percent poverty rate and a .551 GINI coefficient. Therefore, many Guatemalans may continue to risk the journey and get caught due to new security measures. This will only increase the number of people subjected to the social stigma that deported migrants receive upon returning to their homes. Also, increased border security could be dire for the Guatemalan economy as well. As of 2011, remittances from abroad contributed about ten percent of the Guatemalan GDP. It is possible this income will slowly decrease as it becomes harder to enter the United States. Overall, a strengthened border means less economic opportunities for poor and uneducated Guatemalans that have no chance of receiving of President Obama’s new startup visas.

Streamlining legal immigration would help some Guatemalan migrants receive jobs, but under Obama’s executive order it may not be sufficient to meet the high demand. While additional visas will be added to the system, many visas will attract foreign entrepreneurs and inventors that have finances; not the majority poor Guatemalans. On the bright side, the Department of Labor will strengthen worker protections for seasonal or temporary farm workers and their families. This could be a steady source of income for most Guatemalan families. Ultimately, this effort to streamline immigration will help bring short time farm work to the U.S. and could stop many from attempting the dangerous journey north.

A path to earned citizenship could give many Guatemalans living without papers in the U.S. a chance to become a citizen as long as they have not committed a crime and can pay a proposed ‘fee’. However, many Guatemalans living in the U.S. send most of their money back to their families and there is no plan to bring their family members to the states. For these reasons it is unlikely that a lot of undocumented Guatemalans will come out of the shadows.

By cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers many Guatemalan immigrants who have committed fraud and identity theft in order to receive a job may be caught and not offered provisional legal status. Immediately, this will only augment the issue of deportation and reintegration into Guatemalan society. However in the long run this measure may give future legal immigrants more protections in the work place.

Overall, we predict that President Obama’s immigration executive order will bring about the deportation of many Guatemalans and will make it harder for future migrants to enter the U.S. These two factors combined with the continued demand to seek better economic opportunities outside of Guatemala will increase the numbers of deportations. It is true that many Guatemalans living in the U.S. may find a path to citizenship due to this plan, but many will face deportation at the border or from within the U.S. This will make the work of the Migrant Peacebuilding Project that much more important to reintegrate these individuals into the Guatemalan society and job market.

Final Blog Post

Posted by migrant.peacebuilding.project on September 7, 2013 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)

All of us at the Migrant Peacebuilding Project are extremely pleased to report that Sunday’s job fair was a complete success! From 1-6 at the Grand Tikal Futura Hotel we hosted 12 businesses and migrant aid services offering employment and support, and we estimate around 200 job seekers attended. In addition to employment services, we offered a resume building station, talks on interview tips, a place where people could obtain and print their police records (a requirement for many jobs in Guatemala), among other services. Additionally, we also presented our research on labor discrimination in the migrant community, and even appeared on Guatemalan national television, both of which we hope will help to spark the public discourse on why reintegration is so difficult for many migrants. While directly finding people employment is incredibly important and amazing to witness, with hundreds of migrants being forcibly returned every week, we believe that starting a dialogue will hopefully go on to create an effect that will persist long after we have left Guatemala. This is not to say that this week’s job fair, which to my knowledge is the first specifically designed for deported migrants, had a huge impact on the lives of many. The story of participant in particular, who we had met previously in the week while handing out fliers, really stands out in my mind. He and a friend arrived over an hour early for the fair, saying to the end and attending every event we offered. Over the course of the day, he received a resume built for him by one of our volunteers, a subsidized copy of his police report, won a scholarship to receive training on computer skills, and had scheduled an interview with a call center company which our team had previously verified to have excellent working conditions and a strong commitment to social responsibility. Being able to witness this success and many others like it was truly a privilege and an honor for all of us.

As our mandate in Guatemala comes to a close, I would like to thank all of our partners and volunteers, without whom this project would not have been possible. To everyone who supported us (if you are reading this blog, that includes you), we cannot thank you enough. The opportunity was an experience none of us will ever forget, and one which exceeded all expectations for success. Hopefully we will be able to return to Guatemala next year to expand on the project and build upon what we have achieved this summer. In the meantime, we plan to work with our partners to continue offering what services we can, while continuing our studies outside of Guatemala. In the next few days we will also be releasing or final study on stigmas and labor discrimination among Guatemalan migrants, so make sure to check back if you are interested in learning more about the issue in depth. The report will also be available in Spanish by September 5th. Again, we are absolutely thrilled with the way this project turned out, and we could not have done it without the generous support we received from countless people who believed in us and our mission.

Sincerely, the Migrant Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Project:

Sam Chase, John Bengtson,  Joe Long, and  Javier Monterroso Montenegro

Interviews and Job Fair publicity

Posted by Sam Chase on August 16, 2013 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

After a lot of hard work, our final job fair is finally on the horizon! This Sunday, at the Grand Tikal Futura Hotel, more than 10 companies as well as migrant aid and governmental organizations, will gather to offer employment and support to anyone who shows up. In addition to the available jobs, which are being offered in industries ranging from call centers to computer repair to the police, we will have a talk on interview tips, a resume building workshop, and a station for people to locate and print their police records as well as other governmental documents which employers may require. Now all we need is job seekers to show up! To that end, this week has been filled with getting out the word about our job fair. We have a popular Guatemalan radio show mentioning our findings and work every day, Javier has had several interviews on other radio stations, and our team has been hitting the streets distributing fliers telling people about our endeavor. Today was a national holiday to celebrate the patron saint of Guatemala City, and we got to experience the sights and sounds of the celebration in the Central Square while handing out fliers. As almost everyone has the day off, we were able to get a lot of exposure. Another benefit of handing out fliers is that many people who saw them stopped us and wanted to talk about the issue, or share their stories. I spoke with one man who originally migrated in the 1980s to escape the violence of the civil conflict, and subsequently lived in the United States for over thirty years, but since being forcibly returned to Guatemala in 2012 he has been unable to find a job. Hopefully the job fair will give him and others new opportunities for employment.

As well as getting ready for the job fair, we have recently conducted a series of very interesting interviews with participants from all sides of the migration process. We interviewed multiple former migrants, who reported experiencing stereotyping and difficulty getting a job after returning from the United States. One of the men we spoke with characterized most of the problems as systemic, and said that gaining employment was largely a matter of ‘de-Americanizing’ himself. He said that when he returned from living in the States, he tended to dress in way many people in Guatemala view as being indicative of gang membership; baggy jeans, white tee-shirt, and nice sneakers. He has never been involved in gang activity, but said that the way he dressed and the fact that he had previously lived abroad caused employers to look at him in a different way. Only after a period of studying and living in Guatemala for more than a year was he able to build the connections required to land him a job. His current employer is not aware he is a former migrant, and he is careful not to dress or act in a way that might be indicative of someone who has spent time abroad. Despite this, he said that he viewed himself as a hero for taking the chance to go abroad to support his family and make a better life for himself. Unfortunately, society at large does not share his pride, and hiding one’s status in order to be better accepted in the labor market is an all too common occurrence for many.

In addition to migrants themselves, we also had the chance to speak with two members on opposite sides of the migration spectrum: and ICE officer, and a coyote. Unsurprisingly, the ICE officer was only willing to offer fairly basic answers to our questions due to departmental guidelines, but it was still interesting to hear her take on the ways in which the department has changed over the years and the ways in which they interact with the people they are charged with deporting. She stressed that ICE was in constant communication with the Guatemalan government with respect to returning migrants, but was unable to actually go into detail about what that meant in terms of effects for the people themselves. She also spoke about the changing tactics of the office, including their use of prosecutorial discretion to target certain kinds of migrants, and new tactics for civil detainment, an effort to modernize and humanize what many consider to be an inherently inhumane process.

Starkly contrasting the strict bureaucratic process which allowed us entry into the ICE offices, our interview with a coyote, who gave his name only as “X”, was only achieved by pretending to be a potential migrant looking for information about the process of crossing the border. We were surprised to learn that the system is quite advanced, and is indicative of a fairly large illegal network. No longer do hopeful migrants just trek north, first they must attend classes which teach them Mexican accents, politics, the national anthem, and any other information they would need to convince US border patrol agents they are Mexican, not Guatemalan. This is due to the fact that as capture along the border is common, for the price of 20,000-40,000Q each potential migrant is given three different opportunities to cross, assuming he or she is deported to Mexico, where the process of trying to cross the border again is relatively easy. When “X” was asked about the methods of payment, he said there were two ways, either paying the entire sum before the attempt, or paying half up front and half on the successful completion. If the latter was chosen, however, the hopeful migrant would need to give up the names and addresses of his family remaining in Guatemala, effectively holding them for ransom. “X” said that the last time someone had not paid his price, his organization had taken the migrants daughter to become a prostitute against her will. While migrants themselves are mostly people who only want a better life for themselves and their families, the criminal networks which facilitate their migration are most assuredly not good people. It seems to me that diverting funds from people like “X” by creating an easier path to legal migration would benefit all parties concerned. On the topic of legal migration, “X” unsurprisingly warned against it. He said that it was expensive and unlikely to succeed (which to his credit is largely true), but also that visiting the US embassy would result in the American government inserting a tracking chip into our would-be migrant’s body. He even went so fair as to claim he knew someone who had died from cancer resulting from the supposed US government implant. Despite this bit of ridiculous fear-mongering, “X”s organization seemed to be very well developed, using a network of different coyotes for each leg of the trip, and even an online payment system in which the hopeful migrant orders fictional goods from an online store, which no doubt simplifies the process of money laundering for the criminal organization. All in all, it was a very interesting, and mildly frightening conversation for our informant.

On a lighter note, hopefully Sunday’s job fair will be a success, and we will be sure to post information and pictures from how it went. Stay tuned!


Educational Seminar and Updates

Posted by Sam Chase on July 30, 2013 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Today we had the opportunity to visit a local school and conduct the second of our educational seminars on the topic of migration. One of the participants from our first focus group is a teacher who was very interested in our project, and invited us to give a presentation about the issue to a group of students who have been studying the Guatemalan internal conflict, which officially ended in 1996. Migration patterns, particularly those of ‘first wave’ migrants during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, are closely tied to the high levels of violence and weak rule of law present during those decades. While escaping violence is still a driving factor behind modern Guatemalan emigration, the pull of greater economic earning power in the United States has largely asserted itself as the dominant factor pulling migrant workers away from what they perceive as bleak economic conditions at home.

      The students were very interested in our project, and we were able to use the opportunity to speak with some of them, as well as their teachers, about their perceptions concerning migrants and politics of migration. One teacher we spoke with had herself previously migrated to the States, now she teaches English. English proficiency gained while abroad is a valuable skill in the Guatemalan labor market, and we are hopeful that employers in industries such as tourism or telecommunications will be working with us to match migrants who speak English with jobs which meet their skillsets.

Preparations for the job fair are also well underway. We have booked a space in the Grand Tikal Futura Hotel for August 18th, and already several companies have committed to send representatives to attend and speak about their organizations and hand out job applications. Other services we plan to provide at the event include a resume building and skills area, job interview tips, a seminar on motivation and leadership conducted by a professional trainer, and even live music from a band which has generously donated their time! We are in the process of promoting the job fair, and are putting up fliers all around the city, as well as hopefully partnering with the IMO to hand them out to newly returned migrants at the airport. We also have a few media interviews planned for next week which should help get the word out, and we plan to take out ad space in some newspapers which have a wide circulation in Guatemala.

Additionally, we have largely concluded our survey on public perceptions of stigmas, and are working hard to analyze the data we have gathered. The survey, along with the results from our upcoming final focus groups, should give us enough qualitative and quantitative data to draw valid conclusions and write a pretty interesting report, especially as this is a relatively new area of academic study. We have two upcoming focus groups planned, one for CEOs and other employers scheduled for Friday, and another to hear from migrants themselves early next week. After that, all we have to do is actually write the report’s conclusions, as well as continue to contact enterprises and raise awareness of our job fair among migrant communities. All in all, things are going pretty well, and make sure to check back for more updates on our progress!


Conducting Surveys

Posted by Sam Chase on July 23, 2013 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Two weeks ago, we started disseminating a survey to measure the public perception of migrant workers who have been deported by the United States government. Our team created the survey with the input and approval of a few different think tanks and research organizations which generously donated their time and expertise to helping us create the final product. The survey, which is available on the Spanish language version of our website, should allow us to better understand the nature of public perceptions of stigmas against those who have been deported. It is anonymous and it does a good job measuring the basic biographical data about those who are filling it out, so we can hopefully draw conclusions about what people from various age groups, employment sectors, and other walks of life think about their deported countrymen.

We are shooting for a total of 1,000 responses, which should allow us to draw basic demographic conclusions about the social perception of migrants, and although it has been fairly slow going, we expect to finish this week. Members of our team have been disseminating the surveys in various locations around Guatemala, which has resulted in getting tailed by security and kicked out of a few establishments in the process, but we are getting results. The process of conducting the survey has also resulted in many interesting conversations, as people naturally want to talk about the issue and tell us a little more about what they think. When I was distributing surveys which Javier in a local mall the other day, several shopkeepers told us that they had themselves been migrants, and told us a bit about their own personal stories of migration and reintegration, which in most cases were not easy processes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some employers we have surveyed are also providing us with more detailed information on why they might be more reluctant to hire people who have formerly been deported, although we can hopefully work to challenge these assumptions in the future. The survey is available online, and if you are reading this and live in Guatemala, do us a favor and fill it out! Additionally, we have been generously assisted in our efforts by some of Javier’s friends and family, who we are very grateful to for helping us speed this process up. Time is of the essence, as our job fair and research presentation is in less than a month!

*Photo in Antigua Guatemala at Central Park - Researchers Alvaro Flores and Arturo Salvatierra carrying out oral surveys. 

While with only about 400 results tabulated so far, it is a little early to be drawing any hard and fast conclusions, we are seeing that the surveys are corroborating what our interviews and focus group have told us about stigmas. As we suspected, people seem to consider education the most important factor for employers’ preconceptions about migrants, and the vast majority of people do recognize both the social and labor discrimination which migrants face in Guatemalan society. As someone not from the country, I was also very surprised to see the sheer number of Guatemalans who personally knew someone who had been deported. With over 50,000 people projected to be forcibly returned from the US this year alone, maybe I shouldn’t have been.

In other news, we are still connecting with aid organizations and private sector businesses to drum up interest for our upcoming job fair. We will also be starting to give our educational presentations on migration issues very soon, where we hope we can let people know a little more about the challenges which migrants face both during and after their experiences abroad. That’s about all for now, check back soon for more updates on our progress!


Witnessing Forced Returns Firsthand

Posted by Sam Chase on July 18, 2013 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

On Friday, we were fortunate enough to accompany members of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to witness an ICE plane forcibly returning migrants to Guatemala. As anyone reading this blog likely already knows, the number of people deported from the United States has grown steadily since 2007. According to the Guatemalan Office of Migration Affairs, more than 40,000 undocumented persons were forcibly removed from the United States in 2012. This year, about 25,000 people have already been removed, and that number shows no signs of slowing. This staggering number of deportations means that multiple plane loads of migrants will often arrive every day. According to our IOM contact, four full planes arrived on the 4th of July alone. I think the irony is self-apparent. While we only witnessed one plane landing, the experience was still striking.

Gaining access to the Guatemalan Air force base was relatively easy, at least when traveling in an official IOM truck. Our guide assured us the heavy security was warranted; even though the base is near one of the wealthiest areas of the city, directly outside the barbed wired walls is among the most dangerous. Coyotes, muggers, and other people looking to take advantage of the newly returned congregate outside of the base, posing as money changers. As soon as these people leave the military boundary, they are given essentially no governmental support or protection

As we entered the base proper, a van was being loaded up with the last remnants of the preceding planeload of migrants as a hard faced solider with a baton looked on. The area was comprised of a large hall situated between the tarmac and the courtyard area of the base, almost reminiscent of a US DMV waiting room. In the courtyard we saw a sign reading “Bienvenido a su Pais”, or ‘welcome to your country’, as well as one table from the IOM offering bottles of water and packets of crackers, with another with phones for returnees to call family or friends in Guatemala, and a final table from Casa Del Migrante, a non-profit and religious organization that offers a place to stay for returnees who have nowhere else to go while they get back on their feet.

The IOM also offers free transportation to several places around the country. Tellingly, our IOM contact said that almost everyone chooses to take the buses heading to or near the Mexican border. Some legitimately have family in that direction, but most will use the opportunity to attempt to re-migrate. When the planes arrived, several young men ran for the busses, not wanting to get left behind. One man we talked to missed the bus, but said he would probably stay the night in the city and get the next IOM bus to the border the next day. We were told that for every plane load of returned migrants, only about 10 stay in the city for more than a night. Clearly, the deportation system is not working.

Some of the stories we heard were truly eye opening. One woman, with her arm bandaged and in a sling, said that she believed it was dislocated when an ICE official harshly grabbed her. Another man we talked to spoke of being treated like an animal, and kept in overcrowded and very cold holding areas for long periods of time, only being given food and water once a day. The returnees were handcuffed until the plane actually touched down in Guatemala, and when the cuffs were finally taken off, he said everyone cheered. This inhumane treatment, resulting only from not having the correct documentation when migrating, is sickening to think about.

Furthermore, these people are given almost no support. The IOM does its best, but the organization is severely underfunded, and is essentially only able to provide the transportation, water, and advice for returning migrants. In fact, the IOM’s charter in Guatemala will expire in about a month, and the entire organization will be pulling out of its operations in Guatemala, leaving an already incredibly underserved group even more adrift in a place that is unfamiliar and even hostile. Fortunately, our IOM contact, along with several of his co-workers, plan to start their own NGO in the coming months to continue to provide the help the IOM currently furnishes, and we plan to assist them with private sector contacts and whatever other help we can offer. The people at the IOM are committed and enthusiastic, but the organization itself is hamstrung by its lack of funding. It, and honestly our organization as well, are simply applying a Band-Aid to the much larger institutional problem of the system of criminalization and deportation. Change will come, but it is not coming nearly fast enough, and until elected officials in Washington and Guatemala City both begin to treat those victimized by deportation as people who just want a better life for themselves and their families, not as dangerous criminals, nothing will be done. We in the US need a drastic reformation of both our immigration policies, and the ways in which we treat those members of society most damaged by the current harmful policies. Once forcibly removed from the US, these people and their woes do not simply disappear, and if our policies continue to treat them as if they do, the current vicious cycle of deportation and remigration will never be broken. I truly wish every member of the US congress could see what we saw in that military base, and hear some of the stories we heard today.


Focus Group One

Posted by Sam Chase on July 15, 2013 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Thursday night our team had the opportunity to host a focus group consisting of interested people for the purposes of discussing the issues of migration, and to allow us to better identify and address the specific stigmas and challenges faced by returning migrants. The discussion was deeply interesting, and was incredibly useful for our work and research; some of what was said allowed us to confirm what we had already suspected, but the conversation also led us to new conclusions about the nature and expression of stigmas, and should provide us with a more accurate snapshot of what many people in Guatemalan society think about migrants and politics of migration.

This focus group was our first, and consisted of mostly middle class professionals not migrants themselves, but a focus group of that type in the works, but hopefully will come soon. Although due to our privacy policy, we cannot reveal exact information about our focus group members, the conversation was joined by people working in professions ranging from business to engineering, and education to healthcare. While none of our group members themselves had migrated, many reported knowing someone who had, and a few even had parents who had migrated in the past, all of which contributed to an incredibly interesting and at times deeply personal discussion of the perceptions and implications of migration.

Everyone present agreed that migration was a huge challenge for Guatemala, a country that is estimated to receive about 10 percent of its GDP from remittances, most of which come from the United States. People seemed to agree that the motivations for migration where usually positive, being driven by factors such as a desire for a better life for themselves and their families, and that remittances were generally used for development, and constituted an important element of many family’s budgets. However, we were interested to note that people also reported that despite feeling that most motivations for migration were noble, they also felt that people who had been deported definitely faced stigmas once they returned to Guatemala. Some even admitted to harboring stigmas of their own, and could understand why some employers would be less likely to hire forcibly returned migrants than similarly skilled people who had not migrated. Particularly relevant to our work is a general feeling that while people did not necessarily consider migrants criminals, they simultaneously believed that most migrants had been deported because they had committed a crime, possibly predisposing people in Guatemala to view them with some trepidation in the workplace. An important corollary to this belief was raised by the group, as while these people may have been sent back to Guatemala ostensibly for committing some sort of infraction, in many cases it might be a common ‘crime’ which in Guatemala never would have resulted in police attention or any sort of stigma, but one which is taken seriously in the US, such as not paying taxes, or running a red light, both of which are common in Guatemala and not viewed as particularly detrimental to society or worthy of any negativity toward the individual who perpetrated them. A US parallel might be a person from a rural area coming to a large city and being charged with jaywalking, something which while illegal, many people would be loath to consider a crime at all!

More so than criminality, we were somewhat surprised to learn that the primary stigma surrounding forcibly returned migrants is one of education, or lack thereof. The stereotype many reported is that while the people who migrate may not be of the lowest socioeconomic class, they do tend to come from an economic underclass, which is perceived to put less value on education than the middle or upper classes. One of our group members summarized the issue quite poignantly when he said “education provides a future, but work provides food”. For many people, education is simply not an option, as while they may distinctly realize the value of education, and hope to provide it for their children, it is simply not an option for people who need to put food on the table for their families. This leads to a perception where people who may have little formal education will migrate to the United States, where higher wages mean that even those without a high level education are able to provide for themselves and their families. If they are returned to Guatemala, they can be stuck with few prospects as their former job in the States will either simply not pay enough, be oversaturated with domestic workers, as in the construction industry, or due to increased levels of mechanization or other factors in the US, not really be the same job at all. Compounded by the frequent inability for migrants to verify their employment history or education gained while abroad, these factors serve to contribute to a stereotype in which people who are forcibly returned to Guatemala are seen as under skilled.

Although some in the States may see the process of deportation as returning people to their ‘home’ country and culture, for many who have been forcibly removed, this is simply not the case. It is often difficult for these people to seamlessly reintegrate into Guatemala, a society which our participants reported as being fairly monolithic. People who return are often viewed as an ‘other’ and may bring with them obvious markers of this foreignness which can range from tattoos to accents to attitudes, many of which serve to out the person as someone who has migrated. These subtle social differences can lead to people not feeling welcome in their own country, and one of our participants reported that when her father returned from his migration to the states, he stated that “Mi pais ya no es el que yo recuerdo..” or “my country is not what I remember”, and this is a common theme for many returning migrants.

When a migrant returns, the social and economic pull factors which originally brought him to the states have not disappeared. Due to these pull factors, a perceived lack of opportunity, and the presence of stigmas in Guatemala, the remigration rate is staggeringly high, as we observed firsthand last week. Also, navigating the complex and sometimes unfamiliar bureaucratic process which is necessary to obtain the proper documents to work can take months, which often is not an option for people who need to provide for their families in the immediate future. Additionally, there is something of a self-fulfilling prophesy at work in the labor market, as some employers will not extend job opportunities or training to former migrants, as they are not willing to take the risk that the individual will re-migrate, resulting in an efficiency loss for the company. Many migrants are caught in something of catch 22 situation, as they cannot find sustainable employment because employers fear they will re-migrate, which itself causes them to re-migrate in search of the sustainable employment they cannot find in Guatemala, adding fuel to the fire of these stereotypes.

While these problems loom large, understanding the views people in Guatemalan civil society hold about returned migrants, and why they hold these views, is the first step to challenging and overcoming the harmful stereotypes which paint those who have been unfairly deported as unfit workers. In the coming weeks we hope to use this information, as well as data gained from a larger scale survey of employers, migrants, and the general public, to address these concerns and find ways in which to alleviate the fears of employers and prove that most migrants are productive and intelligent people who genuinely want nothing more than the same opportunities extended to others for employment.

Stay tuned for more updates!


Making Progress

Posted by Sam Chase on July 9, 2013 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)

We are slowly but surely getting off the ground in Guatemala. The bureaucratic process of getting in touch with interested private sector businesses and other organizations which assist deported migrants can be difficult, but it is heartening to see that we are getting somewhere. We have already received offers from several companies which say they would be interested in hiring migrants, and next week we hope to meet some of the US government chartered planes which bring over 40,000 deported migrant workers to Guatemala yearly. Being able to meet with these people and offer what support we can is incredibly important, both in terms of assistance, and in terms of actually being able to talk face to face with people about their experiences with deportation. Hopefully we can provide a medium for some of these people share their stories and thoughts on migration, deportation, and stigmatization with a wider audience both in Guatemala and in the states. To this end, we plan to create a short video which will document some of what we have learned from our informants in both the business and deportee communities.

The group has also been reaching out to academic and media sources and have an upcoming radio interview which should afford us a really great platform to get the word out about combating stigmas in the workplace, as well as possibly connecting us with more individuals who have been deported who might be listening. We will also conduct a seminar about public perceptions of migrants at a local high school relatively soon.

Our team has also created a survey which is going allow us to gather data on migrants themselves, as well as measuring stereotypes and methods we can combat them. We plan to pass it out in malls, bus stations, and other public areas, and are aiming for 1000 responses which should be simultaneously feasible, and providing a large enough sample size for producing useable data. In designing the survey, Javier’s experience with political science research at Colby is proving invaluable; as is a fruitful meeting about research strategies we had with members of the Guatemalan think tank Asociación de Investigación y Estudios Sociales (ASIES), a group which we are indebted to for providing us with very useful constructive criticism for improving the effectiveness of our study. That’s about all for the immediate future, I will be sure to post more updates when we have them!


We Have Arrived!

Posted by Sam Chase on June 24, 2013 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (0)

6/24/13: After a fairly easy flight into La Aurora Airport on Friday, Joe and I have finally joined Javier in Guatemala City! John Bengtson is finishing up an internship in Washington DC and will be joining the group on the 30th, by which time we hope to have the basics of the project up and running. Before we arrived, Javier was busy preparing and establishing contacts within the business and NGO communities, and participated in an Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) conference for economists and leaders of humanitarian efforts in Latin America. Our program was chosen to receive advice and support, at no cost, from professional advisers and directors, which will be incredibly useful to us as we navigate the process of becoming an effective force for change in Guatemala. He also traveled to rural areas in the hopes of finding information about migrant communities and opportunities there. While we have determined that our budget constraints will almost certainly restrict our effective reach to within the confines of Guatemala City, the trip did provide insight into the pain and struggles that many migrants and their families face as a result of the failure of support networks and institutions both within Guatemala and internationally. If nothing else, hearing Javier recount these stories served to reaffirm our commitment to assisting members of society made vulnerable by harmful and unfair social and legal institutions.

To this end, we hope to conduct a study in which we measure relative long term effectiveness of two parallel systems of support for formerly deported migrant workers: we hope to determine if direct employment in the private sector, or practical educational opportunities which would hopefully lead to skilled-labor jobs are more effective in raising the socio-economic status of migrants over a long period of time. This undertaking will be difficult, as keeping in contact with the people who we help over a period of time long enough to produce usable results will be a challenge in and of itself, as well as the already complex process of matching migrant workers with jobs which we are already engaged in. To this end we hope to explore partnership opportunities with other organizations that are undertaking similar efforts in Guatemala City and we hope to meet with representatives from both governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations soon. Additionally, we are conducting surveys to determine the public perceptions of the stigmas against deported migrants so we can better address them, both in the workplace and in civil society. We hope to conduct interviews with migrants themselves, and to create a short film to document and share their experiences as well.

On a more personal note, Guatemala is an incredibly beautiful country which I cannot wait to explore more fully during our downtime. The city itself is bounded by mountains on all sides and situated in what is known as the Valle de la Ermita, which really makes for a picturesque view from the window of our apartment. As touristy as it might be, I am really excited to climb an active volcano! My Spanish is very poor but improving, and Joe is getting better every day. That’s all for now, we will post more updates when we have them!