The primary social use of the pandemic has produced an overwhelmingly fear of the virus, of the other, of contagion, of disease, and ultimately, of death. These fears justified border closures and the adoption of a series of measures to control the mobility of the population within the national spaces. Foreigners embody the figure of the other, specifically, of racialized, suspicious bodies. In times of pandemic, suspension is exacerbated and the fear of foreign bodies are seen as vectors of contagion. In several countries, forms of social and state xenophobia towards certain categories of migrant population have been reported. In Guatemala, the government and the public are suspicious of Guatemalan deportees arriving from the United States. In Chile, government authorities associate the virus  and its rapid spread with the Haitian community, whereas in Argentina, “agreed-upon deportations” have been implemented to expel certain tourists who could be a source of contagion such as Korean or European migrants. 


The pandemic fear has impacted the migrant population in the Americas in different ways. Fear also operates within the migrant population, but it has some other nuances. Irregularized migrants and asylum seekers fear getting sick and not receiving help, being unemployed, not having food to eat, and not being able to pay the rent and being evicted. They fear that their lives will become more precarious than they were before the pandemic. In various countries in the region, they also fear social and state xenophobia, raids, detentions, and deportations, or to dying in detention centers with COVID-19.  These fears derive from xenophobic policies that construct them as public burdens and that criminalize them incessantly. In our continent, the United States is the most paradigmatic case as raids, detentions, and deportation have not ceased despite the pandemic. The Supreme Court has authorized express deportations even of legal residents who have committed crimes (including misdemeanors) from up to seven years prior. 


Anti-migrant measures 


The Trump administration has adopted anti-migration measures such as the “public charge rule.” While this charge does not include emergency health care, the policy deters migrants from seeking medical care in the fear of being barred from regularization in the future.

In Columbia, the mayor of Bogotá stated that Venezuelan migrants were an “economic burden” for the capital's government. Public measures and statements targeting migrants exacerbate fear among the mobile population, especially if they are irregular migrants. For this reason, many migrants are afraid to seek social assistance, health care services, or even report abuses.


Fear can immobilize and turn the population docile. It can also trigger strategies to fight for life. In Canada, the United States, and Mexico,  irregularized migrants organized hunger strikes because they fear contracting COVID-19 due to unhealthy conditions of the detention centers. In addition, despite the closure of borders and surveillance, many irregularized migrants have undertaken returns, practically forced, to their places of origin because of fear of contagion, the precariousness of their lives, and state and social xenophobia. 

The virtual discussion will focus on how the production of fear as a form of control operates during the pandemic, how it has materialized in different national spaces, and its impact on the migrant population. We will discuss the ways the production of fear has a resulted in diverse social responses as part of the migrant struggle that currently takes place in our continent.

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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