Guest post by Deniz Daser, PhD candidate in anthropology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. Deniz is currently conducting ethnographic fieldwork with Honduran migrant workers working in the building trades in New Orleans. Her research examines how the historic banana trade between Honduras and New Orleans has facilitated waves of migration and informed contemporary worker experience. More information can be found at her website.
Sitting in the court gallery, I can barely see the young girl sitting on the other side of the bar facing the judge. I make out the top of her head though she otherwise disappears into the chair. The judge asks her age. The girl’s aunt replies in Spanish, “Seis.” The court translator translates for the judge: “Six.” After a series of questions and directives, the judge matter-of-factly, though gently, reminds the girl and her aunt about the repercussions of not appearing in court for her next hearing. She also advises them on their right to obtain a lawyer and her clerk provides them with a document detailing low-cost lawyers in the area. As the little girl and her aunt leave the gallery I catch a glimpse of her. She is dressed in a yellow shirt and matching yellow ribbons holding together tightly wound pigtails. I smile at her and she breaks into a broad, toothy grin. I think about what her journey must have been like: leaving her family, perhaps traveling with someone she knew but was not close to, and most likely coming to the New Orleans area to reunite with kin. She―like the dozens of cases I hear that day and next―is given until January 2015 for her next hearing concerning her status and whether or not she will be deported.
It’s the very end of September 2014 and I am in Immigration Court in New Orleans attending proceedings relating to the so-called unaccompanied child migrants from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The immigration court is housed on the 24th
floor of an office building downtown. The court’s location on a nondescript floor that it shares with a maritime company belies the gravity of the issues in the docket.
Currently located in New Orleans for long-term ethnographic fieldwork and studying the working lives of Honduran migrants, I have been spending months conducting interviews and participant observation with Hondurans working mainly in the construction industry. Their concern for these children began to pepper our conversations when news of their detention near the US-Mexico border began dominating the headlines. As it stands, the court docket is packed full of hearings for these children. While New Orleans currently does not have a full-time immigration judge, rotating judges fly in and out to hold hearings for the children, pushing adult immigration cases into the future.
I did not set out to study issues of security, detention, crime, and violence, but, as is the nature of ethnographic research, events on the ground unfurled before me in ways I could not have predicted. Stories of the arduous journey on foot through Mexico into the US, crime and insecurity back home in Honduras, strained relations with the police force and ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) here in New Orleans, even the structural violence of workplace injury and unaccountable contractors; in one way or another, these stories related to me by adult Hondurans approximate the lived experience of violence. Though I am in the midst of fieldwork, I am starting to see the linked experiences of children and adults as they attempt to navigate the complex immigration system.
In contrast to how the story has been told within the national news media (see for instance here
), the child migrant “crisis” is far from ahistorical. While threats to security in these countries have indeed swelled in the past year, the U.S. is deeply implicated in the histories of these societies, including examples such as the exploitative trade in bananas (which I study, particularly between New Orleans and Honduras), coffee, and other commodities; many decades-long support of right-wing regimes and squelching of left-wing movements; the ongoing drug trade; the prison-industrial complex in the U.S. and its relation with the deportation regime; and neoliberal trade deals. The current wave of migrant children calls out for deeper analysis of the historical and contemporary conditions under which such migration becomes not just possible but necessary.
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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style): Daser D (2014) From the Field: Children in the Court: Deportation Proceedings for the Child Migrants of the Northern Triangle. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/child-migrants-daser/ (Accessed [date]).