|Posted by Sam Chase on August 16, 2013 at 7:00 PM|
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!
Categories: Reconciliation (2013)