Since the 1990s, the United States has outsourced control of its southern borders to third-world countries by establishing border security agreements, visa regimens, detention programs, and agreements to receive returned and deported migrants. These measures have been implemented to deter irregularized migrants in transit, particularly those from Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Even before the pandemic, detention centers in Mexico reached capacity and did not have optimal sanitary conditions. Migrant shelters throughout Mexico and Guatemala experienced similar conditions. These conditions were exacerbated under the pandemic making detention centers and shelters focal points of high contagion, risking the health and life of irregularized migrants. 



Before the pandemic, the Trump administration developed containment measures to counter the augment of worldwide asylum-seekers arriving in the U.S.-Mexico border.  The “Remain in Mexico” and “Safe Third Countries”  (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) programs was  established for asylum seekers (Central Americans Mexicans, Venezuelans, Caribbean and extra-continental people to wait in those national spaces until their asylum application procedure is processed in the United States. Before the pandemic, the waiting time confined applicants to a legal limbo, exposing them to living under precarious and violent conditions on the Mexico-U.S. border. During the pandemic, the invocation of the Public Health Service Act of 1944 allowed the U.S. to take exceptional measures by prevent the entry of those who represent public health “risk”. These measures include the closure of its borders, the increase of returns, express deportations, and the temporary impediment asylum applications. These measures provoked a rapid increase in the number of returned migrants, deportees, and asylum seekers leaving them stranded and in a situation of extreme vulnerability in Mexico and in the Central American countries that are meant to serve as “safe third countries.” The conditions of waiting have highlighted their lack of protection, risk in the face of local forms of violence, and now, the risk of contracting COVID-19. Despite the fact that borders have been closed globally, the United States has not stopped deporting migrants. Due to existing reception agreements with countries of origin, deportation flights from the U.S. persist. The arrival of deportees in Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, and Ecuador has had a discriminatory effect on the local population as the U.S. deported migrants who tested positive for COVID-19, contrary to all health protocols.

The virtual discussion will analyze how the externalization of the U.S. border control produces a spiral of violence to the south where migrants and asylum seekers have their rights disposed. It will also consider the role of Mexico and other “Safe Third Countries” in border control policy. The externalization of borders calls for debates around state sovereignty within contemporary geopolitical inequality, such as the role that Latin American and Caribbean countries play within the broader framework of the United States’ policies. 

In mid-March 2020, nearly every country on the continent declared a health emergency. These countries closed their borders and adopted a series of exceptional measures, arguing that forced immobility as a  solution to contain the virus. Following the shutdown of borders,  more than 30 researchers from the Americas, interested in analyzing the migratory question politically, organized virtually and began to consider the particular situation of millions of migrants, women, men, children and adolescents, from the continent and/or from other latitudes, all of whom are mobile and in transit.

Original Concept: Soledad Álvarez Velasco, University of Houston

General Coordination:Soledad Álvarez Velasco, University of Houston & Ulla D. Berg, Rutgers University

Research, Systematization and Development of Contents: Soledad Álvarez Velasco, University of Houston;  Ulla D. Berg, Rutgers University; Lucía Pérez-Martínez, FLACSO-Ecuador; Mónica Salmon, New School for Social Research; Sebastián León,  Rutgers University.

Coordination polyphonic map: Iréri Ceja Cárdenas: Museo Nacional/ Universidad Federal de Rio de Janeiro

Project Advisor: Nicholas De Genova, Universidad of Houston.


Translation team Spanish - English: 

Soledad Álvarez Velasco, Mónica Salmón, Ulla Berg, Luin Goldring, Tanya Basok, Ingrid Carlson, Gabrielle Cabrera.

Translation team Spanish - Portuguese: 

Iréri Ceja, Gustavo Dias, Gislene Santos, Elisa Colares, Handerson Joseph, Caio Fernandes, María Villarreal.

Website Design and Development:  ACHU! Studio; Francisco Hurtado Caicedo, Social Observatory of Ecuador

Photography: David Gustafsson y Cynthia Briones.

Video: David Gustafsson.

Some of the researchers of this project are members of these CLACSO Working Groups

English translation and proofreading by Gabrielle Cabrera, Rutgers University.

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