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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Third International Conference: Local Action in Response to Migration

Current debates about migration throughout the Central American-Mexican-United States-Canada corridors require a reexamination of the topic from perspectives that include the effective protection of human, civil, labor, and political rights. We are compelled to take into account the voices that are counteracting violence against immigrants, promoting support programs, and generating better access to public services.

To that end, the Human Rights Program (U of M) recently joined with Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla and the Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas in Mexico to host their third annual international conference, this time on the subject of local responses to migration. As new debates and trends in the local and national politics of social inclusion of migrant communities are being accompanied by the rise and consolidation of actions by civil society, including the artistic and intellectual community, the time is ripe for this interdisciplinary discussion aimed at examining the experiences arising from local action and responses to migration.

Jill Anderson, an activist and researcher from Utah currently living in Mexico City, kicked off the conference with a keynote presentation on a project she has devoted her life to since 2012; Los Otros Dreamers. Focusing on mainly young people (high-school and college-age students), Los Otros Dreamers is a project dedicated to telling the stories of deportation, specifically of individuals who spent the majority of their lives in the United States only to be deported back to Mexico or who have chosen to return because of hardships faced in America. In words and photographs, the book that resulted from the project illustrates the struggle of immigration, deportation, and identity on the personal level of a bilingual community on the move, and the obstacles and injustices they have encountered on their journey to a better life.

The project focuses on establishing advocacy, support, and a sense of community for undocumented individuals. Their belief in education, not criminalization is central to their cause. Los Otros Dreamers operates through providing networks of advocacy for youth affected by undocumented migration.
In a panel on local action and actors in solidarity, Ana Melisa Pardo from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México led with a presentation on non-governmental organizations involved with migratory action, drawing attention to instances where governments do not provide adequate support or resources for individuals involved with migration, prompting non-governmental organizations have to step in.

Continuing the conference, individuals like the University of Minnesota’s Bianet Castellanos discussed the politics of race and recognition in indigenous migration, acknowledging the frequent displacement of indigenous peoples when countries go through colonization or government overthrow, leaving them without basic human rights and representation.

Following up on the topic of representation, Jose Aguirre and Tim Frye, graduate students from the University of Minnesota discussed Latino radio in the Twin Cities and how important representation is in establishing a voice for marginalized groups.

This idea of representation and advocacy draws attention to a different set of problems; individuals that are set back from their educational and professional pursuits due to lack of resources and unfair legal practices, put at risk their safety, mental health and sense of identity. Throughout the rest of the conference, the identity, health, and safety of undocumented immigrants was discussed.

In his presentation “Unable to ‘Do No Harm’”, Anthony Jimenez, a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Minnesota discussed healthcare for immigrants in Texas. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act was passed with the intention of reducing the number of uninsured Americans regarding healthcare. However, this act does not apply to undocumented immigrants, and the instatement of this act has done more harm than good. According to Jimenez’s study, there are currently 373,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas, most of which do not have access to reliable healthcare. The reason for this, he examined, is that due to the Affordable Care Act, public health is being overshadowed by the private practice industry, which puts more people at risk by turning healthcare into a business instead of a lifesaving service. To combat this issue, Jimenez’s organization Justicia y Paz works to provide migrants with food, clothing, and basic healthcare.

In concluding the conference, we marked the need for continued dialogue and engagement, especially as it relates to cross-discipline discussion and in fostering relationships between academic institutions, advocates, those individuals most significantly impacted by migration. The Program looks forward to continued engagement on these issues with our partners in Mexico and around the globe.

~Written by Selma Demirovich