Irregular migration and identity: More than just documents

The dangers of irregular migration are most often described as migrants being exposed to things like perilous routes, violence from criminals and potential traffickers.  And yes, data from the Missing Migrants Project indicate that the border between the United States and Mexico has become increasingly dangerous for people trying to avoid inspection. MMP has recorded a total of 1,907 deaths over the past five years, of which 444 occurred in 2018. 

Still, many do survive the crossing, only to meet dangers beyond the clandestine journey itself.  The reality is that large numbers of people make the trip successfully, but they arrive without a vital piece of their previous life: access to their identity.

A fundamental part of individual well-being is the proper connection between the individual and the nation state. This connection is established by law for nationals and migrants via the civil registry (or social security system in the case of United States citizens) and immigration law. Both systems issue forms of ID for various benefits for the people.  Thus, the individual is recognized under a country’s constitution, and can clearly access government protection as well as rights and services like political participation, education, employment or health care. At the same time, the individual can be held accountable to the state for various legal and administrative violations.

When people cross borders irregularly, they skip these processes entirely, breaking the connection between individual and state. In turn, this creates a subcategory of people who are unknown to the state.

This has several implications, but most importantly, it translates to vulnerability for people and states. Without recognition under the government, migrants live without the protection it entails, and without identity documents they fall into the informal economy, where they may be subject to exploitative practices.  At the same time, the informal economy grows with each new contributor and further erodes the relevance of the legitimate state.

The tendency in emerging economies is for governments to focus more on controlling peoples’ access to a migration status, but not necessarily their territory.  This is coupled with large informal economies. As a result, irregular migrants are mostly seeking access to a country’s territory and the informality, not access to migratory status.  In turn, this works towards the growth of inequality.

For some people, simply entering a country may be perceived as a “successful” migration, but without the identity management responsibilities of state and individual, how many obstacles will a migrant have to face the rest of their lives in that country? More vulnerable populations, such as children, may be trafficked or lost without anyone being able to verify their identity. They may end up as vulnerable in their destination country as they were during their journey.

Identity management should be improved collectively to avoid these issues.  A key action is to improve on policies that attract irregular populations to identify themselves to the state and for the state to have working methodologies to register people who may not be able to provide documentation.  Migration systems should not exacerbate vulnerabilities, but rather guarantee protection for migrants’ human rights.


Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America

Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Guest Contributor

In cases of forced displacement, extortion is often mentioned as one of the main causes. However, extortion is located within a cycle of violence, such sexual violence, murder, etc., and it is difficult to identify a single incident of extortion as the sole reason for leaving a country.

Although its definition varies depending on national legislation, extortion can be understood as the use of threats, intimidation and other acts of violence to obtain actions or goods from another person against their will, as defined by the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Environmental Funds (REDLAC), in a special bulletin dedicated to this issue and upon which this post is based.

In the context of migration, kidnapping and extortion go hand-in-hand, as smugglers often extort money from migrants by threatening to kidnap their relatives. Extortion can also be committed in the other direction: relatives of migrants who have already arrived in another country are extorted by smugglers, demanding money from them so as not to harm the family member who has already migrated. This can often lead to persecution in communities of origin and destination.

In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the serious issue of personal insecurity fuelled by drug trafficking and corruption has marked the region as one of the most violent on the planet, according to Amnesty International. In this context, extortion schemes demanding payments from local markets and small businesses are commonplace in gang-controlled territories. However, depending on the country, there can also be extortion demands  placed on homes, such as in Guatemala, where this accounts for 55% of extortion complaints.

There is also a difference between the type and impact of extortion experienced by men, women, children and the LGBTIQ+ population. In this sense, when women are extorted for money, threats are often combined with the intimidating possibility of sexual violence. According to the REDLAC bulletin, the bodies of women, adolescents, and girls are treated as territory for revenge and control while children are being increasingly recruited as rent collectors, among other functions.

Migrants are often also extorted by people who are not part of criminal groups but who take advantage of their vulnerable situation to turn a profit, such as locals who demand payment to cross private land rather than using routes with criminal gangs, or transporters who demand money from irregular migrants in exchange for not reporting them to immigration authorities. The same situation has been reported with employers who, on pay-day, threaten to report migrant workers for an irregular migrant status.

There are currently no figures on the number of people displaced or forced to migrate due to extortion in northern Central America, as this is part of a generalised climate of violence; however, some organisations locate this crime as one of the main reasons for migration from areas or even from the country.

 

Extortion during the pandemic

In the bulletin of the Network of Latin American and Caribbean Environmental Funds (REDLAC) which examines extortion as a trigger for internal displacement and forced migration in northern Central America and Mexico, some relevant points were also made about how extortion has adapted to the context of COVID-19:

  • In El Salvador, COVID-19 has reduced the income of gangs, but they have not lost territorial control. Some gangs have established restrictions, such as allowing one individual per family to make food purchases, to reduce the risk that a gang member may become ill and not be able to access medical care.
  • In Honduras, the paralysis of the transportation and informal trade sectors, generally common sectors for extortion, has registered a decrease in cases of extortion due to the pandemic. However, there have been reports of threats of retroactive charges once commerce resumes, house-to-house tariffs, and road ‘tolls’, and scams executed by gangs. Food distributors are frequent victims of extortion when entering communities.
  • In Guatemala, extortion has not stopped either, although at the beginning of the pandemic some maras (gangs) granted ‘pardons’ in their communities. However, national agencies predict that when the restrictive measures end, there will be an increase in other crimes and that extortion will return as a greater threat.
  • Mobility restrictions increase the risk of people being trapped in violent environments, making it difficult to seek support in other territories and countries. Despite this, many people seek and will continue to seek irregular migration options, despite the dangers of the pandemic, in order to leave the high-violence, low-income contexts in which they live.