The hiring of Mexican workers for temporary employment in the United States is a transnational process with little transparency and accountability in which thousands of Mexicans have suffered from fraud and abuse. The program structure, controlled by employers, allows and encourages the use of agents and subcontractors and lacks the mechanisms to protect potential migrants. The nearly complete lack of public and accessible information encourages the violation of migrants’ rights.
This article (1) presents an analysis of how the H-2A and H-2B programs work, (2) explains the legal and regulatory frameworks of the programs, (3) explores current problems in access to public information about recruitment, (4) explains the work that CDM has done to access public information through the Federal Institute of Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI, the acronym in Spanish) in Mexico and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the United States, (5) argues that both governments must guarantee free and timely access to public information for migrants so they may protect themselves from fraud and abuse, and (6) proposes a series of changes to transparency laws so that they meet the needs of migrant workers.
Key words: Labor recruitment; temporary work; H-2A visa; H-2B visa; migrant workers; labor rights violations; right to access public information; Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos (IFAI)
The following is a summary of my remarks during the presentation of Migrar en las Américas on July 24, 2014, in the Museo de las Culturals Populares in Mexico City, Mexico.
I began my project intending to realize a micro-history of el Pedregal de Santo Domingo, a paracaidistaneighborhood in Mexico City, relying mostly on oral histories with residents, and supplemented by archival research. I wanted to understand how residents had constructed and organized their neighborhood from scratch, both by petitioning local governing authorities and by working autonomously in neighborhood associations. After involving myself in Santo Domingo and beginning my exploration of the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) and other archives, I realized that by limiting the project to study only the internal organization of a single community I would be missing much of what is interesting about the paracaidista phenomenon that engulfed the city during the 1960s and 1970s. I also realized that my knowledge of Santo Domingo’s history was far too limited to immediately begin oral histories with original residents.
The result is that my project has changed in two important ways. First, the scope of my project has broadened to include several questions about the paracaidismo of the city’s metropolitan area. How did citizens and urban governance (elected officials, organizations, programs) participate in the physical and social organization of Mexico City’s growth? How did economic and social policy (changes in government structure, creation of new laws and programs, etc.) reflect the vision held by urban governance for the city’s growth? How did these policies contribute to the demographic explosion and the organizational and social crisis of the city? By adding these questions, I will expand the results of my research to include conclusions about the nature of the urban process, namely the extent to which different actors control its direction, and with which mechanisms, tools, and tactics.
Second, archival research now makes up much more of my source material than I had originally planned. Oral histories are still indispensible for achieving the goals I originally outlined, but in order to understand the whole story of the organizational upheaval that the city underwent during this period, and in order to ask the right questions in my oral histories, other varieties of source material now constitute a much larger portion of my source base. Since my project aims to gauge the nature and influence of citizen participation, the histories and perspectives of individual residents are still an integral component of my research.
// SEF // Mexico City, Mexico
I am currently reading Urban Leviathan: Mexico City in the Twentieth Century by Diane Davis, and was impressed by the data table she developed to show the change in population of greater Mexico City during the twentieth century. Her table is especially interesting because it separates the census data into three geographical jurisdictions: Mexico City, the Federal District, and the Metropolitan area. This allows for a more thorough look at the demographic patterns of the region, since demographic change was not uniform. I simply plugged her data into an excel sheet and created this visual representation. (Click on the graph to more easily read the definitions for the three geographic jurisdictions.)
While the region’s population growth is generally impressive, the growth of the Metropolitan Area from 1960-1980 is staggering: during the 1960s and 1970s, the Metropolitan Area grew from 5.4 million to 14.4 million. The four centraldelegaciones that comprise Mexico City proper (the original city center) actually saw a slight decrease in population during the period in question, which means all of the 9 million new residents settled in the greater Federal District and in the urban periphery. Less than half (around 4 million) settled in the 12 great greater delegaciones of the Federal District, and around 5 million arrived in the surrounding municipalities, mostly in the state of Mexico. Also note that the populations for the Federal District and the Metropolitan area are nearly identical until the 1960s, meaning that the population spilling beyond the borders of the Federal District before this period was negligible.
This means that the city’s urban footprint grew enormously during this period. New residents, mostly coming from Mexico’s rural and economically depressed regions, were forced to the city’s periphery. The explosive demographic growth meant that urban government was unable to supply basic services (utilities, housing, transport, etc.) to these new, often poor, populations located far from the city center. With government unable to meet their basic needs, residents took matters into their own hands. The 1960s and 1970s saw an explosion of colonias paracaidistas and other forms of irregular settlements, which were often hotbeds for political activity and engagement, usually around questions of urban services.
// SEF // Mexico City, Mexico
Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl (pronounced more-or-less “net-sa-wal-KOY-yote”), or sometimes shortened to simply Ciudad Neza, is a city adjacent to Mexico City. Though someone unfamiliar with the political geography of the Valley of Mexico would probably not realize it, Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl is a separate political entity from Mexico City and located in a different state. Mexico City is housed within the Distrito Federal while Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl is located in the neighboring state, the Estado de México. Much of what encompasses the urban metropolitan area of Mexico City spills into the Estado de México, and this urban sprawl is what allows the population of the city to reach approximately 22 million.
Ciudad Neza, to which I have not traveled and most likely won’t ever visit during my time here, didn’t exist before the 1930s. In fact, until around 1932, the land on which it now sits was submerged beneath the surface of Lake Texcoco. Beginning in the 19th century, the Federal Government began a massive project to drain the lake which was finally completed in the 1930s. Once drained, the land was declared property of the Federal Government and by 1933 construction of the Mexico City-Puebla highway was completed in the area.
The first informal settlements in Ciudad Neza began in the 1940s and in the following decades the population quickly ballooned. By the 1950s, citizen groups had begun organizing and protesting the government for basic services like electricity, running water, road construction, and proper drainage systems to prevent flooding. By 1960, the population of Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl had reached 90,000. Citizen organizing to demand basic services, and later, regularization of land tenure continued into the 1980s.
Much of the Valley of Mexico, which includes Mexico City and Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl, suffers from frequent flooding. This, of course, is due to the fact that until the massive drainage projects of the past several centuries, most of the valley was submerged under lakes. The Mexican government is engaged in a constant battle to prevent the valley from returning to its natural state: filled with water. In its early years, Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl experienced frequent flooding, and occasionally these floods were quite severe. In 1967, the city experienced a period of especially heavy rains which brought devastating floods to the area.
I have been spending a fair amount of time at the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), or the General National Archive. The AGN is housed in what used to be the Lecumberri prision, pretty much the most notorious prison in Mexico City. I first heard of the Lecumberri when taking a course at the University of Chicago about human rights in Mexico and we spent a couple weeks reviewing the events of the 1968 student movement. The movement culminated in what is widely considered a massacre of student and community protesters by the government of President Díaz Ordaz and Vice President Echeverría Alvarez. After the massacre, hundreds of students were arrested or otherwise sequestered to the Lecumberri prison where they were held for months or even years as political prisoners. Many were tortured and some never reappeared.
Needless to say, working inside a place where student activists were incarcerated and tortured is more than a little unsettling. But while the history of the place is disturbing, the physical structure itself is beautiful. (Though the surrounding neighborhood is a little sketchy, so I dread the three block walk to and from the metro station.) Recently refurbished, the AGN is a beautiful place to spend the day pawing through photos and documents. Each of the corridors constitutes a different galería, housing a different collection of documents. I have been working in galería 1, which houses the Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS), or the Federal Security Directorate.
We have entered the final stage of our program here in Mexico: The Independent Study Project, or the ISP. Each of us on the program has chosen a subject of interest, identified a research question we wish to answer, identified an grass-roots NGO that works on our topic, identified a person who works within our field of interest to be our Project Advisor (usually, but not always, from the NGO), and begun conducting a field-based research project to answer our question. Most of us opted to stay here in Oaxaca City, but three left for San Cristóbal de las Casas and one returned to Mexico City. Topics include micro-finance, community radio, migration, alternative and environmental education models, midwifery, the APPO movement from 2006, and transportation worker unions. For the most part, the projects are based largely on interviews we conduct in the field.
My topic has gone through many phases. As I have stated before, I was at first really excited to research the legacy of the student movement in Mexico City, but decided not to return to Mexico City. Once I had ruled out my first idea, I returned to a general subject that I have always found interesting: the agrarian question in Mexico, specifically looking at the changing role of the ejido in Mexico. When our group visited the Isthmus of Tehuantepéc we visited several groups working to preserve their ejidos in the face of privatization efforts by the government that I became very interested in working with (the community group in La Venta and UCIZONI). My academic director decided that working in La Venta was too dangerous as police forces maintain a large and often violent presence in the area..
How could I work from Oaxaca City on a topic that is largely related to the rural sector? I remembered that during our “Alternative Tour” with Oliver Froehling he had mentioned that ejido communities on the urban fringe have been encountering major problems and pressures in light of the city’s rapid urban expansion. Oliver Froehling became my advisor and, after a few conversations, I decided to focus my project on a case study of a community called Reyes Mantecón.
Sarah Farr is PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The views expressed in this blog and on this website are my own.