Violent Democracies and their Emigrants
My current project bridges research on violent democracies and migrant transnationalism to explore how international migrants and the human, financial, and social capital they transmit across borders interacts with the violent processes and institutions that often characterize democratic politics in their origin countries.
Violent democracies are countries in which the legitimate means to accessing power are no longer violently contested (it is through competitive elections), yet a multitude of actors, including political parties, elected officials, and other state authorities; civil society groups and citizens; and criminal as well as legitimate profit seeking organizations, regularly use violence as a means of competing within established democratic institutional frameworks (Arias and Goldstein 2010; Auyero 2007). They comprise countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines—countries with large numbers of emigrants, many of whom remain culturally, socially, politically, and/or economically engaged even as they become settled in their receiving countries (Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004; Faist 2008; Portes 1997). India, Mexico, the Philippines, and Pakistan rank among the worlds’ top ten migrant-sending states in 2017 (IOM 2018). Over half of violent democracies listed fall in the top twenty remittance receiving countries of the world (Colombian, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines) (World Bank 2016).
My project shows that the violence that constitutes the practice of democracy in sending countries, particularly Mexico, shapes the practice of migrant transnationalism itself, including migrant outreach on the parts of political parties and the state, as well as migrants’ interactions with their origin countries. Additionally, migrants’ transnational involvement in their origin countries can unintentionally add to or mitigate violence these origin democracies.
The research contributes to our understanding of how migration influences democratic accountability, representation, participation, responsiveness, and justice in origin countries. It also demonstrates that the violence that constitutes the practice of democracy in many sending countries shapes the practice of migrant transnationalism itself, including both decisions to emigrate, government and state-to-migrant outreach, and migrants’ interactions with their origin countries.`
US-Mexico Migration and Mexico’s Local Electoral Politics
I am currently working with Daniel Tepler, a Bates College undergraduate student, on a project titled “U.S.-Mexico Migration and Mexico’s Local Electoral Politics: Why do Return Migrants Run for Office and Win?,” which examines why Mexican immigrants run for mayor in their origin communities after returning from living in the United States, as well as under what conditions they win or lose.
Return-Migrant Mayoral Candidates in Mexico’s Violent Elections
Electoral violence occurs before, during, and after elections and is perpetrated by political elites and non-state criminal actors seeking to influence elections’ outcomes. It is common in middle-income democracies that produce large numbers of international migrants who retain social, political, and economic ties with those countries from abroad. Evidence that these sustained ties affect migrants’ origin countries’ politics raises the question: Can migrants contribute to shoring up electoral integrity and competition in countries at risk of electoral violence? This research addresses this question by examining candidates who run for mayor in Mexico after living as immigrants in the United States. It proposes that return-migrant candidates have access to resources and capacities that enhance resilience against violence and the ability to accommodate violent actors. The project advances knowledge of how two key policy areas–migration management and the reduction of electoral violence’s negative repercussions on democratic competition. It provides valuable information to experts working to reduce violence and organized crime in Mexico and agencies that design electoral violence prevention programs. I have received funding from the National Science Foundation and Bates College to support this research.