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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Constant Threat: Deportation and Return Migration to Northern Mexico, 1918-1965

  • Author(s): Gutierrez, Laura Denise
  • Advisor(s): Gutiérrez, David G
  • et al.

This dissertation examines nearly five decades of voluntary and involuntary return migration to Mexico to explore how this affected migrants, communities in northern Mexico, and Mexico as a sending country. I approach the study of return migration by focusing on processes of forced removal and repatriation as well as the arrival of migrants in their home country to look at what happened to repatriates, deportees, and returning guest workers after arriving in Mexico. This dissertation begins with the World War I emergency labor program and ends with the return of bracero guest workers to Mexico in the mid-1960s. During this period, returning migrants became associated with disease, crime, violence, and instability, while cities in northern Mexico struggled with the significant demographic and economic changes caused by this migratory movement. Thus, as the threat of deportation functioned to discipline and control Mexican migrants in the United States, returning migrants in Mexico were also perceived as a threat by their compatriots.

A study of return migration provides one way to explore the hidden costs of labor migration on migrants and communities and as I argue, this system of international labor exportation ultimately proved destructive for Mexico and its people. Removal procedures used by both the US and Mexico held ramifications for not only those who returned, but also for those who never migrated and for Mexico itself as the notion of a deportable, temporary workforce affected the sending country in complex ways. Examining the effects of forced removal on Mexico as the original country-of-origin opens up new lines of inquiry and raises important questions regarding ideas of circular migration and labor importation. This project thus sheds light on the consequences of involuntary return migration as the hidden side of an inherently flawed system that exploits laborers at the expense of their well-being and their countries-of-origin.

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