Crossing Mexico: Structural violence and the commodification of undocumented Central American migrants

by Wendy A. Vogt

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The undocumented-migrant journey across Mexico has become a site of intense violence, exploitation, and profit making within the logics of capitalism. While transnational migration is often conceptualized from the perspective of sending and receiving communities and borderlands, I suggest the liminal spaces between these zones are crucial sites for understanding how structural forms of violence are reconfigured in local settings. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork in migrant shelters located along the journey, I trace how Central American migrants’ bodies, labor, and lives are transformed into commodities within economies of smuggling, extortion, and humanitarian aid. I argue that everyday violence along the journey is produced by historical trajectories of political and criminal violence and by local and global economies that profit from human mobility. As violence is rearticulated at the local level, new tensions and social dislocations emerge between and among social groups.