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The Coercive power of debt: the migration and deportation of Guatemalan indigenous youth

Muirhead Tower - Room 715
Social Sciences
Monday 5th November 2018 (14:00-15:30)
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Join us for the IRiS Seminar Series 2018-19, The Legacy of Migration, at the University of Birmingham

Speaker: Dr Lauren Heidbrink, California State University.

The arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children to the United States, most of whom are from Central America, has sparked a debate about whether these young people were refugees or economic migrants. Media headlines and policymakers have attributed the influx of child migrants either to an increase in cartel and gang violence or to deepening poverty in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Amid a global enforcement regime characterized by the proliferation of private detention facilities and deportation as a routine state practice, the illicit market for clandestine migration has grown in terms of both cost and risk. This presentation illuminates an emerging type of migration—debt-driven migration—and its specific impact on young people in an effort to blur the oppositional distinction between forced and voluntary migration under international refugee law. Based on a multi-sited ethnography in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States among Mam and K’iche’ youth, I trace both the growing prevalence of financial institutions and organizations issuing credit that is used to fund undocumented migration, and the ways K’iche’ and Mam families enlist borrowing to navigate the everyday impacts of intergenerational poverty.

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