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.


7 recommendations to promote the inclusion of migrants in host communities through social and cultural activities.

Categoria: Pacto Mundial sobre Migración
Autor: Carlos Escobar

The promotion of social and cultural activities as a mechanism to encourage interaction between migrants and host communities with the aim of advancing in the construction of more just and peaceful societies, is currently a topic of special interest in studies, policies and programs on migrant inclusion and social cohesion.

Taking Intergroup Contact Theory (IGCT) as a reference, different researches argue that the interaction of people from different places and contexts, under the right circumstances, favors trust and the change of xenophobic or discriminatory perceptions. Thus, intergovernmental agreements such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration have integrated this perspective into their theoretical and conceptual body. In particular, Goal 16 "Empower migrants and societies to achieve full inclusion and social cohesion", calls for the creation of community centres or programs at the local level to facilitate the participation of migrants in the receiving society by engaging migrants, community members, diaspora organizations, migrant associations and local authorities in intercultural dialogue, exchange of experiences, mentoring programs and the creation of business linkages that enhance integration outcomes and foster mutual respect.

Based on the analysis and review of different research, the IOM, in its publication The Power of Contact: Designing, Facilitating and Evaluating Social Mixing Activities to Strengthen Migrant Integration and Social Cohesion Between Migrants and Local Communities – A Review of Lessons Learned, proposes a series of recommendations, based on empirical evidence, to encourage the participation of migrants and receiving communities in social and cultural activities.

1). Fun and goal-oriented

Designing and incorporating fun and exciting activities leads to a lighter and more welcoming environment for people to meet, interact and create social bonds. At the same time, setting common goals, which neither group can achieve without the participation of the other (cooperative interdependence), makes the activities more engaging and participatory.

2). Mutual appreciation

Participants should understand, recognize and appreciate culture, traditions and history as part of the process of bridging differences, maximizing each other's strengths and identifying commonalities. It is important that all individuals are able to identify how their contributions can have a positive impact on the achievement of common goals.

3). Shared ownership

Involving migrants and local communities in all phases of activities will increase their participation. This ownership empowers them, raises their self-esteem and opens up new opportunities for responsibility and commitment.

4). Guided Reflection

Dialogues and activities that allow for a certain degree of reflection help to create an atmosphere that is perceived as trusting, friendly and warm. Processing information and sharing personal and sensitive stories, which can evoke memories, are of utmost importance as long as they are carefully guided and accompanied by facilitators or project members.

5). Supervision and Trust Facilitation

Those responsible for group interactions, such as team leaders, facilitators, project staff or event planners, must play an active role in promoting equality within intergroup relations and creating an inclusive environment for all. This deliberate effort is crucial to overcome the natural tendency of participants to group themselves according to their most salient characteristics and status.

6). Sustained and regular intervention

It goes without saying that the more frequent, prolonged and intensive the participation, the better the attitude of each individual towards others. This means adopting an approach that rethinks the role of the people involved, who in turn will define the needs of their communities and ultimately take part in the design and organization of appropriate interventions.

7). Institutional support and partnership

The support of institutions such as local governments, media, government agencies and intermediary organizations is critical to promoting and facilitating constructive efforts to strengthen intergroup relations. The coordination of these institutions creates a system that can provide resources and incentives to promote and strengthen intergroup relations.

Social and cultural activities, understood as a programmatic intervention strategy to facilitate the inclusion of migrants in receiving communities, are important to the extent that they offer non-institutional spaces for interaction, where through spontaneous human contact, social ties are built based on experiences, stories, emotions and life trajectories of the participants. This facilitates the generation of trust between individuals, greater degrees of social cohesion and, of course, peaceful coexistence in communities, understood not only as the absence of conflict, but also as a positive, dynamic and participatory process in which dialogue is promoted and conflicts are resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation, through the acceptance of differences, the ability to listen, recognize, respect and appreciate others. (UN, 2021).