Shared Populations/Poblaciones Compartidas

The proposed project will develop a set of proposals to study how transnationalized families—shared by both the (U.S.) and Mexico—are impacted by immigration enforcement in the U.S.  Greater enforcement has disrupted the historical cyclical nature of migration between the U.S. and Mexico. Unable to enter and re-enter, undocumented immigrants have become pseudo-permanent residents in the U.S. At the same time, there has been a dramatic increase in their policing and removal. The concept of “Shared Populations” (Poblaciones Compartidas) (Figure 1) conveys the idea that the affected populations are neither exclusively Mexican nor American. As such, both countries will contend with the challenges this population presents, as well as their potential contributions to economy and society. Understanding these dynamics requires a systematically binational approach to research.

The Shared Populations Model

The dynamics depicted in Figure 1 restrict this shared population’s ability to achieve its human potential. This project will focus on effects on education, livelihoods, and health. Specific research questions include:

  1. Education: How does the uncertainty of living in the U.S. as “undocumented” impact education goal setting behaviors among children of undocumented immigrants? How are children of deported immigrants impacted by their new educational settings after they return to Mexico in terms of language, aspirations, stigma, and ethnic/cultural identity?
  2. Livelihoods: how do returnees to Mexico attempt to create a new life for themselves and their families? How are families impacted when wage earning or care-giving parents are deported and their US-born children are left in the U.S.? How do education and employment experiences of families split across the border impact decisions to remain or return to the U.S.?
  3. Health: How does the experience and stress of migration and return migration affect mental and physical health—both among mobile populations and the family they leave behind in either country?

Methods, Approaches, and the Competitive Advantage

What is innovative about this proposed research is the framework of inquiry (Figure 1). The framework is a departure from other studies that examine transnational populations in either sending states, or immigrant destinations. These easily conform to citizenship, residency, or national origin categories, which in turn are defined by international borders. But what if family units as a whole defy these categories. The framework is thus an ambitious attempt to identifying questions and methods for research that reflects and operationalizes the idea that certain socially and geographically conjoint populations defy conventional boundaries. They are somewhere in-between and this has implications for both the U.S. and Mexico.   

Members of the UA team have a proven track record of working with populations made vulnerable by their in-between state. They have used a range of methods, quantitative and qualitative that make them uniquely positioned to be competitive. To be sure, these methods are time-consuming and challenging. To gain insights into children’s and families day-to-day lives, data has been collected through home and community observations. Semi- structured interview methods have been used to gather data from primary caregivers in the home, and from women in migrant shelters. Survey research has been implemented using random sampling techniques that adhere to highly mobile populations (such as in a migrant shelter), or the more stable but more invisible populations in a large urban city in Arizona..

Approaches used that have distinguished the project team include working closely with school administrators, church groups, lay community health workers, migrant shelters, and immigrant advocacy organizations, which help to establish trust between researchers and respondents who may be apprehensive or reluctant to divulge information that may be incriminating. The lead UA team member and others collaborators have studied, reflected upon, and published on the methodological and ethical issues that emerge from identifying and reaching “hard to find” vulnerable undocumented populations.

In sum, conventional research commonly assumes that borders are fixed and that processes taking place within national boundaries can be easily separated from those outside (methodological nationalism). Many of the project team are themselves 1st and 2nd generation Mexicans living in the U.S, and as dual nationals, they move back and forth across tension-laden borders, switching seamlessly between languages and cultural settings. This ability in itself contradicts much of the thinking that the nation-state serves as a “container” of social phenomenon. In this way, project team members’ training is enriched by first-hand knowledge of what it means to belong to more than one nation and this provides access to and rapport with subject populations in a way that is innovative if not essential for the study of a population that also to large extent defies borders.