Monday, October 5, 2009

Sacrifice and Survival

Josefina was 28, from Irapuato, Guanajuato. She and her husband were headed to Georgia to work in agriculture. They met a group of people from Chiapas that spoke a similar Mayan dialect to her husband and decided to join them for the crossing. One of them said that he knew the way more or less. After four days of walking through the desert, they realized they were lost and needed to do something to get water.

Josefina's husband went out on the road to see if someone would stop and give them water. The rest of the group hid in the bushes. No one would stop for him. Josefina decided that maybe she would have better luck as a woman. A gringa stopped and gave her a cup with some ice in it, but that was all she had. Soon, a police officer stopped. Josefina saw the police officer coming but decided not to run. She knew that if she had run, they would have called the migra and a helicopter. They would probably have caught the rest of her party that was hiding nearby. Josefina knew this and was willing to risk getting sent alone to Mexico, in order to preserve her husband's chances to go to the U.S. and work to support their children.

Josefina pleaded with the female police officer not to call the border patrol. The cop said that she was just going to take her to a clinic. Josefina was given a couple of bottles of water but she only drank a little and left them by the side of the road so that the people in their group could get drink it. What amazing foresight. She kept her mission in mind and never stopped trying to help her group despite the threat of being arrested.

When Josefina was taken to the clinic, she passed out on the floor and no one helped her. Then the border patrol was there to pick her up as soon as she got out. Josefina started crying. "The police are supposed to help you, not lie to you." Although she had not yet talked to her husband she heard that he made it. Josefina was most likely going to try to cross again, but wanted to hear from her husband first. She had no money at all and no ID because her husband was carrying it. She sacrificed her chances at crossing for the good of her group. Josefina is dealing with the consequences of being alone and broke in a strange city. She is at great risk. Her husband can work and support their family but until Josefina comes up with a plan, she alone must deal with the consequences of a failed crossing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On drugs and migration

Alejandro’s eyes were vacant, blood red, darting randomly about the room. He was scratching vigorously at his arms, and shifting constantly in his seat. It was obvious that he was high but when he informed me that “no soy migrante, soy burrero,” “I am not a migrant, I am a drug mule,” I was taken aback by his honesty. I had spoken to other burreros before, but never while they were attempting to blend into the general population of economic migrants. At the shelter where we have been working for the past two years it is understood that in order to stay here, one must pretend to be a migrant. Because of this, it is rare that people admit to being professionally involved with the violent and dangerous criminal syndicates in charge of trafficking drugs, smuggling and trafficking people or robbing migrants in the desert. However, the connections between migrants and so-called, “border professionals” represents a complicated web of structural factors and individual agency that result from the desperation and violence that envelope undocumented migration.

Alejandro wore a blue-checkered button down shirt, cap and baggy jeans that were slightly torn from the six days he spent in the desert. He claimed to be from Salina Cruz Oaxaca. His primary language is Huave , an endangered language, which suggests that he is probably originally from a smaller village nearby since only 4 villages and 18,000 people continue to speak Huave. Alejandro had been living in Caborca, Sonora eight years ago, where he got involved with drug trafficking.
In total, Alejandro had made four attempts to carry about 50 lbs of marijuana in a backpack through the desert to different drop points. He gets paid $1800 USD for each successful trip. Twice he successfully made it to Phoenix and twice he dumped the backpack and turned himself in to the border patrol, pretending to be a migrant, asserting that he would not be reprimanded for loosing the drugs.

Every group that works with migrants, be it as humanitarian aid workers, Mexican Government officials or U.S. Border Patrol spends considerable energy attempting to differentiate the real migrants from the fake migrants. This may very well be an impossible feat. Many of the border professionals involved in illicit activity were at one-point migrants searching for work in the U.S.; Alejandro is but one example of this phenomenon. A recent article in the Washington Post interviewed a man involved in kidnapping and extorting money from undocumented migrants, who himself was a migrant that owed a debt to the cartel.

This topic is one of the most central issues in undocumented migration, but activists or humanitarian groups in the “pro-migrant” camp almost never touch it. Conservative anti-migrant groups use the drug trade as blanket rational for treating all migrants as criminals, interning them in prisons and building more fortifications to keep them out. It is more complicated than both these groups are willing to admit. For this entry I will discuss several interviews with people that were involved in the drug trade and how this has shaped the migrant stream through Sonora, Arizona. It is complicated, messy and dangerous but it is also important for understanding the system that has been created by the cartels to use U.S. immigration prevention strategies to limit the effectiveness of U.S. drug prevention practices.
Since the cartels have taken a lot of control over the human smugglers (Guides, Coyotes, Polleros), they are able to control the large groups of migrants that cross and use them as diversions. Normally, this is accomplished by staggering groups of 15-20 migrants in 30-minute intervals and then sending a small group of burreros behind them, so that they can see any border patrol activity in front of them. They are essentially using the migrants to hide in plain sight.

Another way the cartels take advantage of undocumented migrants is by preying on the vulnerable people, homeless on the streets in need of money or assistance. Convincing people to carry a load of marijuana across is sometimes done with clever promises, other times it is done with a gun to the migrant’s head. In an interview that my colleague Paola Molina conducted, a young man named Luis was approached by men at a bus station in Nogales, Sonora after being deported and was forced into a van. He was threatened with death if he did not cross as a diversion to a drug shipment. When he arrived in Phoenix he was held in a safe house and held for ransom. Luis was informed that if he killed someone from a rival gang they would let him go. He was able to get ransom money from his sister but ICE agents raided the house and he was deported. It is hard to say how common this experience is, but it is important to note how strong the pressure to comply with the drug trafficking regimes can be for migrants.

The next interview with an experienced drug trafficker will explain exactly how drugs are transported from Mexico to the U.S.


Originally from Veracruz, Mexico Jose was a short man in his early thirties with a shaved head, wearing a button down short sleeve polo shirt and baggy jeans. He was about 5’6” and he was missing half of his pinky finger on his right hand.
He began by declining to do a survey, preferring to talk to me instead. I told him that was fine. He told me that, “Nogales es mas feo que Juarez.” “Nogales is worse than Juarez.” He told me a story about how he and a friend he met in detention were accosted by a highly organized group of kidnappers, theives or smugglers (he was not sure since they escaped).

After his story we began chatting about the drug violence. Jose had been living in Ciudad Juarez, the epicenter of the drug violence in recent years. He mentioned that migrants cross “cargados de mota,” “weighed down by weed.”. He asked me if I know Magdalena. I said yeah, “Mafialena de Kilo,” a popular nickname for the town, now overrun by drug trafficking. Jose laughed out loud. I asked under my breath if he had ever crossed with drugs. Everyone had left the room at this point so we were alone in the chapel. He said, “Mira” I will tell you how it is.

There were obviously some incongruities with this interview. He told me a couple stories of being apprehended and stories of getting to Tucson with the drugs, inferring that it was his first and only time, however because of the way he was able to give me details about being a burrero, I inferred that he had more experience than he let on.

He told me the story of his first time crossing drugs through Magdalena, Sonora, a town about 40 miles south of the border. Jose told me that he ran into some friends and they started talking about crossing into the U.S. They asked him if he knew the way and Jose said that he did, more or less. They got into a truck, filled with oranges to drive close to the border. The oranges filling the truck immediately perplexed Jose and the strong smell of the fruit saturated the air. They arrived at a little ranchito in the hills outside of Magdalena and pulled out the oranges, to reveal the packages of marijuana underneath. They wanted him to cross with it. Jose said, no, I don’t want to. They pressured him, saying, come on, you were going to cross anyway, let’s make some money, are you scared? Jose told them he wasn’t scared.

He went into great detail about the crossing experience. He explained that, you start with 22kgs (48lbs) of Marijuana in packages. You tie this to your backpack. He said that he was lucky that he knew how to tie well. Jose said that he looped it underneath and around the sides of the backpack and tied two costales, or bags to each strap to fill with other supplies and marijuana.. The 50 lbs of weed is just the beginning. They give you maruchan, polvo (cocain to keep your energy up), dragones (disposable camp stoves), cans of tuna and beans, maiz, tortillas and a gallon of water. Jose said that it was hard to walk because of the weight. They could only go for short periods of time and it would take a long time to get the group together to get going again. Jose explained that there were ten people carrying the drugs, as well as a guide and the “encargado”. He said that normally there are between five and ten burros. They refer to the leaders as “guia” and “encargado.” It is important that no one know anyone else’s name, for safety. The leaders are in charge of the safety of the shipment. The guia was carrying two handguns. Jose motioned as if he was a gunslinger from the Wild West pointing his fingers at me as if they were pistols. Bang, bang, he said.

Jose informed me that the real boss is the encargado. He knows the duenos personally. Only his word will save you if you lose a shipment of drugs. The encargado has to tell them that it was the migra or soldiers or bajadores that took the drugs. This is to insure that no one runs off with the drugs. He said that all the leaders are from Sinaloa but the real boss is from Durango. I am assuming that he was referring to “El Chapo,” the biggest drug lord in Mexico that recently appeared at number 701 on Forbes’ list of billionaires.

Jose said that they walked for three days and nights, hiding and sleeping in the day, walking at night. They diverged from the traditional migrant paths after a the first day and went really high up in the sierra, where the migra rarely goes. No one goes there because it is so high, and so difficult to climb. According to Jose, all the ranches are working with the drug traffickers. They coordinate shipments, give signals that the coast is clear and give rides to people. Jose got picked up by a van, when they were high in the mountains. They waited for a series of signals from the ranchers, lights, radio communication. They all have gps units. Jose said that they are extremely coordinated up there in the sierra. Everyone is involved.
They arrived at a ranch owned by an “indio” to get some food and sleep in the barn. Jose said that they give you a package of weed to smoke if you want. I think this might be a way that they try to pay people in product instead of giving the money that was promised. Then they were driven to the Tufesa bus station in Tucson and sent back to Mexico. He said that they were supposed to pay him $1300 there, but they didn’t. Jose said he was going to go back to see them in Mexico, but he didn’t seem too worried about it. He shrugged and said “No me pagaron, Esta vez, no me pagaron.” “They didn’t pay me. This time they didn’t pay me.” The story I have often heard is that instead of paying people, they convince them to cross again for the promise of more money. Then they have you hooked.

Some other people coming into the chapel interrupted us. Jose told me, that he couldn’t talk about this stuff if there are other people here. In this shelter “there are people that do EVERYTHING. You have no idea,” he informed me in a hushed but emphatic voice.


It is estimated that 50% of the drugs that enter the U.S. come through the Tucson Sector, and this is how the majority of the marijuana arrives. Other drugs are usually taken through the ports with the aid of corrupt officials. According to Jose, there are many officials on BOTH SIDES that are involved. Both of the drug traffickers interviewed here were formed migrants that failed at making it to the U.S. as workers. Both of them said that they will keep crossing until they get caught, at which point they get 8 months in jail and then will have to do something else for money. However, that is the least of their worries. This is a dangerous business and the likelihood for a long life is slim. Mexico saw about 6,000 drug related murders in 2008 and over 13,000 since the drug war began in 2006. The majority of these deaths occurred on the border in the struggle for control of shipment routes.

It is important not to demonize or dehumanize the people involved. That is a lot of lives lost. People that used to be “real” migrants can easily become mules. All it takes is one more kidnapping, one more robbery, more debt to repay and they have you. As the cartels take control of the coyotes, they have more and more leverage to use against people and make them work for them. The gangs therefore have an infinite labor supply. You borrow money to cross, they kidnap you, or you fail to make it to the U.S. how do you pay back those $2-3000? That is the question many people are left with. There are no good answers either.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Life in the U.S.

We recently began a mini study on risks involved with living in the U.S. The goal is to try to see if people select their locations based on any foreseen knowledge of the quality of life where they are going. I did 17 short interviews one night and had some important insights into the ways in which the entrapment processes are working in the U.S. and what people are doing to avoid them.

The only person that had not heard of raids occurring in the U.S. was a young man that had never been to the U.S. before and had been trying to meet up with his father in New York City. It actually surprised me that, while migrants often know very little about the crossing experience prior to attempting it, they know much more about how to avoid risks within the U.S. Many of them insinuated having moved from a different area that was worse, having found a different U.S. city that offers more protection from deportation. Although this information is purely based on social networks and therefore relies on a mixture of information about the availability of work and the risks involved in living in that area. Understanding exactly how this relationship works will more require time and research, but I can explain a few of the insights into the various consequences of different risks to migrants. The most common fear raised by the people I interviewed (for this project, as well as with the other projects) was the constant threat of apprehension that would lead to deportation and therefore failure to earn enough money. This fear was manifested in concerns about the border patrol coming to immigrant communities to arrest you for being latino, the lack of a driver’s license so any driving infraction can result in an arrest and deportation, and having bosses that refuse to pay, or lower the wages, threatening to call the border patrol if the migrants do not accept the new terms.

A man named Gilberto was apprehended in Redding Pennsylvania when the border patrol went door to door in his all latino apartment complex, demanding identification. He was subsequently deported to Mexico and has tried several times to get back with no success even though his wife and children are still there.

The lack of driver’s licenses pose a specific threat to migrants because any roadblock or traffic citation has extreme consequences. A 44 year old man from Oaxaca told me that he never did anything but drive from work to home, and he was terrified each time. States such as New Mexico allow people without legal status to obtain drivers license, but the lack of profitable work in there probably detracts from it's generally attractive nature as a sanctuary state.

The inability to collect wages owed is a big problem for migrants. One man told me that he was owed $8,000 USD in back wages by an employer. He was injured on the job using a jackhammer to break up concrete and that boss refused to pay for his medical bills and withheld his wages. After another failed attempt to get back to his family in Oklahoma he is going to head back to Mexico where they will hopefully join him soon.

Other people mentioned the violence and the gangs that run the areas where they live in the U.S. They said that the assassins and drug dealers make them pay a toll for living there. It is important to note that the marginalization, vulnerability and violence associated with undocumented migration does not end at the border. It transcends space creating a complicated web of oppression that is interlaced with macro-economic policy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Research impotence (continued)

As researchers we are attracted to issues that we find important, that need more attention to shed light on injustice or mistreatment. However, we have come to a point when the process known sometimes as "cultural critique" has basically been proven not to result in real sustainable social change. By simply staying in the shadows and commenting on issues, as social scientists, we are limiting the impact of our work due to academic procedures. That being said, I am still grappling with how best to use my skills as a researcher, and not be relegated by the impotence that is a fundamental part of traditional academic research.

Last week I had a particularly intense evening of interviews, starting with a man named Mario in his fifties from Honduras that had his leg shot off in a robbery back home. He had lived in the U.S. for a long time and was arrested on several different occasions for drug use. He was deported to Honduras a year ago and while working on the street, thieves tried to rob him and shot him in the leg and the foot with a machine gun. He lost his right leg above the ankle and his big toe on the left foot. Mario and his girlfriend Esmeralda, a nurse that had helped him recover, had traveled to the border on the train. I could not imagine risking the train without two legs. I will admit that when he first started talking I had assumed that he lost his leg on the train. They had been kidnapped for two weeks but the experience was obviously far too sensitive for them to discuss with me at the time. Mario teared up and his effusive storytelling immediately halted. We talked a little while longer about his children that are living in the U.S. He still does not know if he will attempt a crossing or what he will do in the future.

After the first interview I talked to 34 year old woman named Maria. She just spent two months in Eloy, CCA. Because she had been in the U.S. for 21 years, had three U.S. citizen children, she did not want to sign the voluntary departure that effectively removes her claim to residency. She was trying to get an attorney but she didn’t have the money. Maria broke down crying immediately. I found it so hard to keep it together when she was sobbing. I have seen men cry dozens of times, but it was a different story with a woman. My eyes teared up just listening to her.

She has lupus and had to go back to Mexico for treatment because the only thing she could get from a Doctor in the U.S. was Tylenol. Maria had to have an emergency operation while in Durango. She almost died and spent 9 months in recovery. Maria was already having marital problems before she had to go. She had caught her husband with another woman in Phoenix and she broke a bunch of windows, leading to a domestic violence call. Maria was issued a ticket so it came up when she was apprehended two months ago. Maria crossed through Sasabe and walked 2 days in the desert before turning herself in, they had gotten separated from the rest of the group and were lost. Upon apprehension she refused to sign the voluntary depature form because this would negate her claim to legal status that is a result of spending so long living in the U.S. She was detained at the Correction Corporation of America's facility in Eloy, Arizona.

Maria's 16 year old son found a lawyer for her, but he wanted 15,000 USD to get her papers in order. She didn’t have the money. Maria said that she owed 6-8,000 dollars in back taxes. They lost their house, and car this past year because of her medical expenses and the time off work. Because the father is also undocumented, he will not be able to bring the kids to visit her in jail or in Mexico. Moreover, Maria's husband's new woman has two kids of her own that he is also supporting. They are living in a trailer park in Phoenix now and resources are scarce.

She told me, “No soy mala. No soy mala madre"-"I am not bad. I am not a bad mother.” Aside from one visit while she was in CCA, it has been a year since she saw her two children. Her youngest asked why she was there, if she had done something. Maria began to cry again and told me, “Estoy con el sueno Americano destrozado.” "My American dream has been destroyed."

Although she did get good medical attention in the detention facilities (they diagnosed her with uterine cancer) she said that the conditions were so bad that she could not stand it and signed the form just to be able to leave. If they had treated her better she would have stayed to fight her case. Maria explained that there is a lot of violence, drugs, weapons inside. She said that people smoke (weed) there, openly. "They should not be able to do that." Someone was stabbed in the same area where she was being kept, right before she left. There are women and men in the facility although they are mostly separate.

Yesterday she almost tried to cross again. They were going to charge $2500 USD but once she was in the hotel she got scared. She ran away as soon as she got a chance. She said that she was afraid of being kidnapped. She said that she will probably keep trying to cross. She can’t find work here and has no educational record in Mexico.

I did not know what advice to tell her. She is risking a lot by crossing but she knows that. For her, the most important thing is to make it back to the U.S and be with her family. It is frustrating to be a researching in this situation. I gave her some advice about who to speak with here in town but really there is very little support available. The question that I keep asking myself is if my efforts are better used in research or in action. Should I spend my time trying to provide support or look for other ways to provide some actual aid or do I maintain my research objectivity and hope that by understanding and explaining the situation, there will be a greater possibility for major change in the future. I hope my reserach will be valuable, but I am still skeptical.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

From one migrant to another

Javier was a thin, athletic looking 30 years old, with a faint mustache and long black hair. He was originally from Guanajuato. He told me perhaps the most heartwarming story that I have heard during my time interviewing. Javier and two companions had been walking for five days. There was blood under the skin of his feet. There were snakes, rattlers and scorpions all around them as they tried to sleep. They saw a highway in the distance and decided to walk along it. One of the companions said, “don’t be afraid of the police,” just walk normal. Soon, a guy in a truck pulled up alongside them and asked if they were hungry. They said “yeah,” and the man gave them 3 burritos, one for each person. The man was also from Mexico and asked if they had been walking in the desert. He then offered the group a ride. When they got to Phoenix he asked them what they needed. They said they were fine and that the ride was more than enough help, but he insisted and gave each of them $10. The man, named Lucio said that he first came here as a migrant and wanted to help them. I will admit I was surprised to hear this, expecting Javier to tell me about being kidnapped.

Javier said that some months later he was waiting in the parking lot of the Home Depot when a man in a truck pulled up looking for three people to help him move. Two people were already in the truck when he started staring at Javier. The man called out to Javier, “do I know you?”

A gunshot rang out nearby, something big. Javier stopped and asked, “What was that?” I shrugged, not wanting a distraction from the story.

Javier told me that he also did not recognize the man at first, but Lucio said, “I gave you up and your friends a ride in the desert.” Lucio made the other workers get out of the truck and they went to pick up Javier's friend that had also been in the desert. They brought some sodas and food along. Javier told me that they had a great time moving furniture, talking and joking around. They worked for five hours and when they were done Lucio pulled out a hundred dollar bill to pay them. Javier and his friend did not want to accept his money and tried to leave, but Lucio followed them out in his truck and blocked their path. He said that they had to accept the money or he would be offended. Lucio gave them both a big hug and finally they accepted the money but made plans to come back the following afternoon to hang out.

Javier and his friend decided that they should use all that money to buy steaks, food and beer for a carne asada. They spent the whole day drinking and eating. Javier said that by the end of the night all three of them started to cry about how much they meant to each other. From then on Javier and Lucio have been great friends. Javier comes to play with Lucio's kids on a regular basis. One of Lucio’s kids was burned severely when she was young so she has medical problems. Javier said that he likes to bring her ice-cream when she is feeling bad. He told me that he has not gotten the chance to call Lucio and his wife Mirele since he got deported. Javier told me that they are the closest thing to a family that he has since his mother died two years ago.

It is amazing to see what people will do for one another despite the pressure not to get involved. It was a big risk for Lucio to help them but he did it anyway out of the kindness of his heart and made a great friendship out of it. I have a tendency to get cynical and depressed about human nature after listening to so much suffering, but a story like this goes to show you how important it is to keep doing this work and realize that you will never understand or be able to predict everything.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Research Impotence

(Photo courtesy of Paola Molina)

As researchers, we are constantly bombarded with ethical questions about what we are doing. Working with undocumented migration I have been personally confronted with unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. Besides the challenge of working with a survey when I am more comfortable doing qualitative anthropological work (i.e. open ended interviews and recording my experiences collaborating and living with people), the frustration of being unable to provide any sort of relief to people that are kind enough to share their lives and their experiences with us, is by far the most difficult aspect. Most of my research experiences have been with Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) where we worked side by side with our partners to collaborate on environmental projects selected by our local partners. With migration research, we are hoping that, by providing information in a methodologically sound way we can make an important contribution to activists and policy makers attempting to achieve immigration reform. However, as a privileged U.S. citizen that is only able to catch a glimpse of the lives that other people cannot escape, is it not my responsibility to have a more immediate impact on people's lives.

On an individual level we are completely powerless to affect these people's lives. Although I, and every (almost) other researcher has slipped a few bucks to individuals with truly extraordinary situations, I could not do it for everyone. Moreover, that little bit of help may relieve some of the immediate issues they are presented with when repatriated to Mexico, but people still need to pay back an enormous debt, trying to find a way home or attempt another crossing.

I do not think I will ever get desensitized to seeing middle aged men that have worked hard their whole lives, campesinos, construction workers, or fathers that break down in tears after their experiences along the border. One night I was particularly struck by how hard it is to be a human being of limited resources and power. I was interviewing a man in his 30s named Raul that was distraught about not being able to get to Kansas City, Missouri and see his two young children that happen to be U.S. citizens. He started to cry several times, wiping his eyes sheepishly and turning his head from me. We began talking about how despite accusations that the undocumented migrants are terrorists or are taking their jobs, gringos will not work in McDonald's. He used to be able to work as a farmer, a campesino in Mexico but cannot make a living at it anymore. He got a DUI in the U.S. and was deported. Now he is trying to get his kids to come back to live in Mexico.

While we were having the last part of our conversation, a young girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old came into the chapel and kneeled down before the picture of the virgin and began sobbing. Her hands were clasped tightly and her head pressed against her forearms. Her mother (or guardian) soon joined her and placed a comforting hand on her back. It did little to stop the young girl’s sobs. She knelt there for about 20 minutes before standing and walking out of the room and back to the dormitory. I do not know what happened to her. I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to her, and moreover, I don’t know if it would have been appropriate. I wish we knew.

I could not get the image out of my mind. I felt helpless that children suffer and I cannot do anything about it. Moreover, I felt guilty for getting in my car and driving back to the U.S. Should I stop? Am I engaged in a futile, voyeuristic exercise? I will never stop questioning my actions. I hope that I keep doubting my every move as long as I do this work. If it were not for this questioning, I would not have the same satisfaction when people thank me for talking to them. A young man told me that "nunca en mi vida, pense que iba a conocer alguien haciendo esto," "In all my life, I never thought I would meet someone doing this," talking to migrants. Or a man that had been in jail thanking me profusely, informing me that he had no idea how good it would feel to talk about his experiences. This was a man whose demeanor initially scared me, but he came close to tears when he shook my hand goodbye.

I am not a therapist, nor a psychologist. I am a researcher and as such engaged in an extractive process where I come to a foreign land and take information from people before leaving. I do not know how to help people with the psychological trauma and I am equally aware that not everyone enjoys their experience talking to me but any time someone expresses pleasant surprise at finding a gringo interested in documenting what happened to them, I am glad I came.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

They treat us like animals...

(Photo by David McNew, Getty Images)

There are many strange things that stand out when studying undocumented migration. One in particular is the prevalence of animal nicknames related to migration. These animal metaphors give an important insight into the dehumanizing effect of the undocumented experience. The vocabulary is used to rationalize treating migrants as less than human. However, this language is not relegated to those that make their living off migrants, on the contrary it is even more prevalent among migrants themselves, showing that they rationalize the abuse they suffer (I am not going to dwell on Bourdieu here, but Habitus and Symbolic Violence are excellent theories that speak to this phenomenon.) By understanding how animal vocabulary is used, it shows how central dehumanization has become to the terminology that surrounds unauthorized migration.

Traditionally called coyotes for their trickster nature and the way they are likely to trick migrants, the guides are also frequently called polleros - someone who works with chicken, usually cooking or killing them. Since the guide is the pollero then the migrants are often referred to as the pollos, or pollitos - the chickens, or chicks. Both nicknames, the coyote and the pollero refer to something that kills and even consumes chickens. Moreover, the terminology used for recruiting migrants to cross is often described with words such as grabbing "agarrando", catching "capturando" or even more disconcerting, "estan vendiendo/comprando los pollos" - "they are selling/buying chickens" used to explain when one guide is selling or buying migrants from another guide. Yet another epithet for migrants that is frequently heard is "pollos asados" - "roasted chickens." This is usually used by border residents to mock groups of people that have been repatriated to Mexico. Because of their dark clothes, and sunburned skin migrants are easily identifiable. Moreover, most Sonorans are fair skinned and contrast markedly with Mexicans from the south. This racist term separates and rationalizes the treatment suffered by fellow countrymen that arrive, tired and destitute on the streets of an unknown city. There is a great deal of animosity against migrants by residents of the border that see them as a danger and a nuisance.

Proceeding along the journey, there is the danger of running into bandits, usually known as bajadores, but are also frequently called rateros, translated as ratter, the word used to describe any breed of terrier used to hunt rats (as best as I can tell). These rateros prey on the migrants and threaten them, often with guns called "cuernos de chivo," literally, "goats horns." In reality they are AK - 47s and the nickname, cuernos de chivo was given becuase of the shape of the handle and magazine.

Yet another border animal is the burro or burrero - pack mule. These are the drug runners that carry large backpacks of marijuana into the U.S. The majority of these people are former migrants that are willing to risk involvement in the drug trade to defray the cost of crossing.

When migrants are apprehended by the border patrol or "migra", they are put into converted trucks known as "perreras" - or dog catcher trucks. I have seen this translated as kennel (Nunez Heyman 2007), but it is more accurately described as dog catcher trucks. They function the same way, capturing migrants like stray dogs and putting them in a cage in the back. The border patrol uses flatbed pickup trucks with a cage in back designed to hold migrants. (See photo) I have heard accounts of up to 12 people being put in back. While the back is climate controlled, I often hear more complaints about temperature when migrants are transported in the perreras. One young man told me that when they complained about the heat, the agents turned the heat all the way up to the maximum. He said that he almost passed out before they arrived at the processing center.

As far as I can tell, the nickname perrera, was formulated from by the migrants themselves. I have asked dozens of people whether or not they have heard the border patrol agents refer to their trucks as perreras, and no one has. This suggests that the nickname is a reaction to the experience of being treated like an animal, like a dog. This dehumanizing treatment is a fundamental part of the border crossing experience. People live in fear, knowing that they have limited human rights. They do not have the power to denounce those that have wronged them. They are not able to stand up for what is right because every moment they lose is less money for their family, less chances of getting that job, and a greater likelihood that they will run across someone that will make them pay for not knowing their place. A 50 year old man named Jesus' eyes began to water as he informed me that he wanted to denounce his guide. They had come across a woman that had foam coming out of her mouth due to dehydration and even though none of them had any water either, he wanted to stop and try to help her but the guide would not let them. Jesus knew that if he had told the authorities who the coyote was, he would be in a lot of danger when he got back to the Mexico. Not being able to give that testimony, living in fear of reprisal is a huge part of being undocumented. Even the while they are living in the U.S. there is constant fear of "redadas" or round ups. These are the workplace raids where border patrol checks documents and repatriates people to Mexico that are working illegally. The term redada is used frequently for cattle round-ups, yet another example of how people become animals in the terms of undocumented immigration.

Nowhere is the treatment more dehumanizing than in Operation Streamline, the mass trials. People are rounded up, chained and sent to sit on benches like rows of cattle. A 23 year old man named Alejandro that had made his first attempt to cross, remarked to me, "Nos traten como animales" - "they treat us like animals. All I wanted to do is work and support my family and they treat me like I am not even human."