This chapter introduces the book's three main arguments. First, the narratives of migrant and deported youth challenge the ways that the law and public policy homogenize the complex, multifaceted, and varied experiences of young migrants. Second, securitized approaches to migration management, often under the guise of "development," is a mode of governance that moves across and beyond geopolitical space, increasingly ensnaring children and youth in this global immigration dragnet. Third, in Central America, Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by the adverse consequences of the securitization of migration management revealing the enduring and transnational reach of public policy across geopolitical space and generation. By interrogating how violence is produced and practiced across borders and how Indigenous youth navigate this violence following deportation, Heidbrink rethinks how and why youth are on the move. The chapter describes the mixed-methods enlisted in this 5-year, multi-sited study and outlines the forthcoming chapters.
Seemingly new patterns of migration among Central American children suggest that young people are engaged in intergenerational survival strategies that are increasingly transnational and youth-led. Enlisting multi-sited ethnography with young people and their families across the U.S., Mexico and Guatemala, this chapter examines how young people enlist social agency through their care work, paid labor, and mobility. As seasonal, regional and transnational migrants, young people enlist migration as a collective and historically-rooted survival strategy that responds to their past experiences of violence and marginalization and to their present and future needs. In tracing the ways young people enact care and belonging through social and physical mobility, this chapter argues that the contemporary transnational migration of Indigenous youth is a cultural elaboration of care, one rooted in historical displacements of Indigenous communities.
Chapter two utilizes the method of multi-media elicitation with young people to dissect discourses that emerged from official media campaigns intended to deter child migration. Youth identifies the ways these official messages infantilize young people, criminalize their parents, and pathologize migration. Analyzing discourses about youth alongside narratives by youth reveals the consequential disconnect between the imagined and lived experiences of young people and their families. In critiquing the campaign and its many pitfalls, young people widen the frame of reference by alternatively interpreting the reasons for and consequences of migration and deportation. In so doing, they evaluate the efficacy of policy responses to child migration in Central America.
In spite of media headlines which claim that child migration is the crisis du jour, chapter three argues that the influx of young migrants in 2014 and 2018 are policy-made crises. Chapter three situates the testimonio of Liseth, a Mam woman who was a refugee in Mexico as a child, alongside key historical and contemporary policy initiatives to illustrate how colonialism, armed conflict, the proliferation of plantations, and extractive industries have displaced Indigenous communities across generations. The chapter argues that these displacements are emblematic of the growing securitization of migration management and of development aid in "post-conflict" Guatemala. Key policies analyzed include the Southern Border Program, the Central American Minors program, and the Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity. Ultimately, the chapter contends that the securitization of aid spurs rather than deters migration.
Chapter four analyzes how discourses about child migration seep into government interventions and institutional practice and how young people experience them. The chapter begins by recounting the narrative of 16-year-old Delia as she is deported from a U.S. facility for unaccompanied children to a government processing center in Guatemala City. The chapter continues with the examination of development initiatives that explicitly claim to support returned youth like Delia, to reintegrate them into communities, and to create alternatives to (re)migration. These development initiatives not only fail to effectively support young people but also reinforce long-standing social hierarchies between the ladino (mixed-race) elite and Indigenous communities in Guatemala.
Chapter five examines how young people variously experience removal following deportation—as children of deported parents or madres y padres deportados; as U.S. citizen children who arrive in Guatemala as they accompany their parents following removal or as llegadas; and as unaccompanied children who are deported as retornados. The in-depth narratives of young people focus on the social, emotional, and financial impacts of removal on intimate, familial relationships over time. Conceptually, these diverse and multiple experiences of removal allow us to recognize the depth and breadth of deportation's impacts on young people and their families. The chapter argues that deportation is a process, one with rippling effects on individuals and families over time and geopolitical space.
Moving beyond the individual and familial impacts of migration and deportation, Chapter six details the community-level impacts of securitization and development in the highland town of Almolonga. Known as the "breadbasket" of Central America, Almolonga enjoys a thriving agricultural economy including abundant employment opportunities given the multiple seasons of crops, selling in local markets, and commerce to and from Mexico and El Salvador. Yet, the migration of young people continues unabated. Enlisting a household survey, this chapter examines local critiques of development and explores how community members alternatively navigate precarity through the growing use of credit and debt, often with detrimental effects across generations.
Chapter seven reflects on the policy lessons learned from Indigenous youth, arguing that there is an urgent need for rigorous, publicly-accessible, and engaged research. The book concludes with the ways young people envision "the right to not migrate" as a transformative process that aspires to 'el buen vivir (the good life)', an Indigenous political project rooted in the valorization of Indigenous ways of knowing and the advancement of a collective well-being, broadly conceived. Young people link internal and community-based decolonizing projects as critical to broader social and, indeed, global transformation.