Academic journal article Human Organization

Entrapment Processes and Immigrant Communities in a Time of Heightened Border Vigilance

Academic journal article Human Organization

Entrapment Processes and Immigrant Communities in a Time of Heightened Border Vigilance

Article excerpt

In processes of entrapment, police and other state agencies impose significant risk to moving around, while people themselves exercise various forms of agency by both limiting themselves and covertly defying movement controls. Recent US immigration and border enforcement policy has entrapped undocumented immigrants, in particular on the United States side of the US-Mexico border region. We explore how to operationalize this "macro" pattern in ethnographic research, making the conceptually and methodologically significant point that political-legal forces are only one among many elements leading to entrapment and immobilization; other factors include transportation constraints, poor health, etc. The concept of "morality of risk" is also introduced to help us understand how and why trapped people would take severe risks to defy immigration policing. Three ethnographic cases are examined, noting the complex mix of movement and barriers found in them. We conclude with the significance of entrapment for applied and basic social science: first, for the analysis of spatial mobility, enclosure, and inequalities of movement; second, for public policy; and third, for the methods and ethics of researching trapped and hidden populations.

Key words: Migration, Mobility, Entrapment, Morality, Risk, Networks, US-Mexico Border, Colonias

Introduction

United States immigration law enforcement policies are trapping increasingly large numbers of unauthorized or undocumented migrants and their families. This is especially pressing in the region near the US-Mexican border, where law enforcement is concentrated, and where people are not just enclosed inside the country as a whole but are also impeded from moving around locally to access vital resources and to join with loved ones. These people are "trapped" by government policing, but this phrase, while memorable, is too static. We conceive of the phenomenon more dynamically as "processes of entrapment," in which police and other state agencies impose significant risk on movement of undocumented people, while these people exercise various forms of agency by both forgoing travel and covertly defying movement controls. In this perspective, people are not so much absolutely nailed to the ground as they are partially and complexly impacted by the movement control system.

We first consider the entrapping qualities of recent United States immigration and border enforcement policy. We then explore how to operationalize this "macro" pattern in ethnographic research, making the conceptually and methodologically significant point that political-legal forces are only one among many elements leading to entrapment and immobilization; other factors include transportation constraints, poor health, lack of geographic knowledge, gender roles, restrictions, etc. We encounter combinations of these diverse factors at the ethnographic level. The concept of "morality of risk" is introduced to help us understand how and why trapped people take severe risks to defy immigration policing. We also link our analysis to the study of recent Mexican-origin migration and population settlements, especially the informal, periurban settlements located on the US-Mexico border known as colonias.1 Three ethnographic cases are presented, noting the complex mix of movement and barriers found in them. We conclude by exploring the significance of entrapment for applied and basic social science: first, for the study of spatial mobility, enclosure, and inequalities of movement (Cunningham and Heyman 2004); second, for public policy, such as improving access to healthcare; and third, for methods and ethics of researching trapped and hidden populations.

Our main source of ethnographic material is research is based on the US-Mexico borderlands, in particular from the lead author's research on colonias in southern New Mexico, which focuses on issues of migration, farm work, and social and political processes of community formation (Núñez 2006). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.