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Offshoring Migration Control: Guatemalan Transmigrants and the Construction of Mexico as a Buffer Zone

The American Historical Review
Feb 2020

During the late Cold War, the United States and Western European countries offshored migration control to less powerful nations by converting them into buffer zones. Buffer zones had long been used to provide nations with military protection; now they were imagined as protecting nations from migrants by obstructing their movement. This practice had human rights implications. Beginning in the 1970s, the idea flourished that the defense of individual human rights was a transnational mandate that extended beyond the protections granted by particular nation-states. Ironically, the transnational practice of extending migration controls beyond individual nation-states that developed in the 1980s opened the door to increased human rights violations. This essay explores these dynamics by focusing on how, during the 1980s, U.S. officials pressured Mexican authorities to enter into a Faustian bargain that limited Mexico’s sovereign right to determine its immigration practices. U.S. policymakers insisted that they would turn a blind eye to Mexican migration if Mexican officials suppressed Central American migration into and through Mexico. In turn, Mexico’s leaders instituted measures to stop Central Americans from reaching the United States. These measures did not curtail transmigration, but they did lead to widespread violence and human rights abuses.