Projects & Grants

Research, Innovation, and Impact (RII) Workshop Grant, University of Arizona, PI: Daniel E. Martinez, Co-PIs: Marni LaFleur (University of San Diego), Alberto Giordano (Texas State University), Caitlin Vogelsberg (Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner), Heather J.H. Edgar (University of New Mexico). 

The aim of the broader project is to work with researchers across the border to create a open-source platform to enumerate migrant deaths across the US-Mexico border.

We examine the barriers to formal healthcare that adult Mexican immigrants encounter in southern Arizona after migrating to the United States as well as any barriers they faced in Mexico prior to migrating. We also document the various ways that Mexican immigrants rely on traditional practices to meet their health care needs.  

We assess the effects that border enforcement and immigration policies, as forms of structural violence, have on the geographical distribution of undocumented border crosser deaths in southern Arizona. We also work with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner and Humane Border to enumerate migrant deaths in the region and to produce publicly accessible reports on this on-going humanitarian crisis. 

July 21, 2017

BMI just got awarded a new grant to study how transnationalized families – shared by both the (U.S.) and Mexico – are impacted by immigration enforcement in the U.S.

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.

figure with flowchart of increased immigration leading to increased immigration enforcement

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.

July 20, 2017

BMI is working with the UNAM Center for Mexican Studies to develop a Consortium for the Study of Migration and Human Rights.

Immigrants contribute to the economies of both the U.S. and Mexico, establish businesses, have acquired property, and formed families. However, in 2005, increased internal enforcement measures taken by both state and federal governments have resulted in greater policing of Latino-heritage populations (primarily of Mexican origin) by authorities. As a result, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of voluntary and involuntary returnees to Mexico, and entire family units returning to Mexico. CONAPO (a Mexican government population census agency) also reports that upon their return, returning migrants face difficulty finding jobs. Many members in these families include U.S. citizen members. U.S. citizen children and teenagers—the children of immigrants who lived in the U.S. make up one of the fastest-growing populations in the Mexico’s public schools.

Because the related issues that emerge from the above-mentioned developments have consequences for these populations living in the U.S. and Mexico, areas of inquiry and policy solutions require a binational approach. This is the rationale for creating a UA-UNAM academic consortium.


An academic consortium is described as group or association formed to undertake an activity that is beyond the resources of any one member.  The objectives of the UA-UNAM consortium are:

  1. To promote international collaborative relationships for the purpose of designing binational research projects on issues of concern shared by Mexico and the U.S.
  2. To promote the mobility of faculty and students as visiting scholars, or through international exchange for teaching, research, or symposia
  3. To jointly design academic programs such as dual degrees or distance learning

The focus of the UA-UNAM academic consortium is Migration and Human Rights, with a range of topics conceivably falling under this focus, and in accordance and conforming to domains of expertise of the members and academic units that will comprise the consortium.

Focus Topics

Border Deaths

research on deaths of migrants due to crossing the border has been done by the Binational Migration Institute for about 10 years now.  The latest research in 44 border counties (from California to Texas) on how officials examine and identify the human remains of presumed border crossers cold be enhanced by collaboration with Mexican partners who would help enumerate the deaths on the Mexican side of the border, either those due to crossing and/or those due to other forms of violence.  Having these numbers would be essential to understanding the scope of the problem and to recommend policies. Working with prosecutors in Mexico or the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) would be entities where our partnership with UNAM might advance this policy research.

Impact of Immigration Enforcement on Communities

Collaboration with UNAM partners can help advance research on the impact of immigration enforcement on communities in the U.S., that can potentially result in deportation: increased policing, surveillance, racial profiling, and Federal government and local police agreements (see footnote 5 below).


Work needs to be done in understanding quickly-evolving policies that impact refugees. Many refugees do not know what is going on at the level of policy that might impact situations, and these populations are concerned about the legal implication of such policies will have on their status.

Public Scholarship and Dissemination

The UA is represented by a range of expertise that due to it is also makes it necessary to respond to a “particular moment” demands.  Although future work with UNAM partners might involve research, it could also involve the Public Scholar approach since this particular moment is urgent.  Three things that can help provide momentum for the consortium:  (a) Create a website to highlight the work being done [already underway], (b) raise capacity for writing opinion editorials (e.g. ala the “Op Ed Project”), and (c) develop a media strategy to raise the UA profile and attract students.


Also mentioned was the importance of borders that the UNAM consortium might partner with UA colleagues, including the border between Mexico and Central America.


It was suggested that an important issue for demographers is how a highly mobile population such as migrants are tracked. More longitudinal data is needed to track developments over time. This should be contrasted with studies concentrated on observing migrants after they have settled. However, we also need to find a way to find return migrants.

Research Methods

The previous suggestion expanded to include collaboration with UNAM partners to address the issue of research methods for researching “difficult to find” populations. The importance of community studies was stressed, that is best done with binational collaboration.

Economic Integration of Returned Families

It was pointed out that when an immigrant is deported, they also often take their family to resettle in Mexico, including family members who may be U.S.-born immigrant children.  If these find it difficult to support themselves, or if children are frustrated with access to opportunities (so called Mexico’s “lost generation”), they may return to the U.S., and  in this way Mexico loses an important resources that could have benefited its economy. At the same time, young people who return to the U.S., may return to discrimination and poor prospects for advancement, which poses as a loss to the U.S. too.  A consortium would facilitate research that examines issues related to citizenship, race and belonging for youth in both countries. How, for example, does having a family member deported impact U.S. citizen youth's understanding of their place in the United States- both for youth who stayed behind in the U.S. and for those who moved to Mexico with deported family member. How are these youth racialized in both countries?


Followed on this last point, it was noted that young people are an important factors in “rebordering,” processes. They are important for transnational connectivity between sending and receiving spaces and a consortium would offer opportunities for examining policies about youth, expectations, lack of access and opportunities, and how they contend with different threats to their development. This is an important topic that our UNAM colleagues could partner with us in.

Community Partnerships

UA and UNAM might engage in discussions on the value of community relations for conducting research, such as the successful collaborations between UA researchers and migrant relief shelters. (This topic might also fit into the category of research methods)

Representation and Mutual Understanding

Because there is a general lack of understanding of each other (US and Mexico) and because this misunderstanding often stems from miscommunication, a critical journalistic approach in collaboration with UNAM partners may entail examining binational representations of migrants.  It was noted that in the context of US journalists coming under attack by our current administration, it was an important point of convergence in light of Mexico’s treatment of journalists.  Currently, a Border Journalism Network exists that provides research and training-based activities which can be incorporated into the consortium, provides a model for organizing this type of collaboration, working to strengthen collaborative activities of the UA-UNAM consortium.   

Public Health

In using a social science approach to health, some researchers have been researching several topics related to Mexican and Central American populations as they are pulled north and into the obit of farmworker in Sonora and in Arizona.  Access to health care and health services has been examined on the Mexican side of the border by researchers, finding that overburdened border cities are plagued by a demand for services. The lack of services and increased stress has long-germ implications for health and chronic disease. 

Leveraging Existing Health Care Programs and Services

The question posed was how best to leverage what is already happening and what other groups already doing to address the issues.  It was suggested that a type of inventory of what other groups are working on might be produced. CONACYT currently funds the Red Binacional de Salud, and as a result, there is a newly established facility in Tijuana.  In Phoenix, there is also a “centro” health service facility established (through the help of the Mexican consulate) that while not research-based, it can potentially provide a place for research to take place. There are others throughout the U.S.

Indigenous Rights

There is a potential of for collaborative work between the UA and UNAM for examining comparative violations of indigenous rights in both the U.S. and Mexico, including the rights to mobility such as in the U.S that impact several border region tribes whose territory is bisected by the U.S. Mexico border.

Comparative Research on Human Rights

Comparing human rights institutions and laws in Mexico and the United States was discussed. UA faculty have developed a comparative human rights degree and working group and hope to work with UNAM colleagues on both the academic program and research. Related to this are changes in state agencies and immigration enforcement in both countries and how these impact migration and human rights, as is a critical topic of inquiry. (See also related item 17 below)

Power, Regulation and Agency

We discussed the importance of examining the government agencies, programs and power structures that impact migration and human rights in Mexico and the United States.

New Feminisms and Women-led Movements

Topics that impact women in particular gendered ways in Mexico and in the U.S. (through the feminization of migration) include reproductive rights, changing gendered norms, the feminization of the labor force and workforce safety and labor rights, sexual assault, trafficking, violence, indigenous worldviews, environmentalism, anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal, and anti-imperialist analysis, and policies such as Structural Adjustment Programs are all certain to be enhanced by greater collaboration between the UA and UNAM. 

Elite Migration Networks

A UA-UNAM partnership is important for expanding research on migration to include successful migration and elite transnational migration networks, particularly important in the context of commerce, trade, neoliberalism, the widening gap between rich and poor, and health, and medical tourism.