Re-imagining Migration: Stories of Displacement

PhD student Miguel Casar shares account of working as volunteer aid for Guatemalan migrants, co-authors paper with UCLA Distinguished Professor Pedro Noguera.

UCLA Distinguished Professor of Education Pedro Noguera and Miguel Casar, a PhD student in the UCLA Department of Education, have co-authored a paper titled, “Stories of Displacement,” based on Casar’s experience of working as a volunteer at a migrant house in El Paso last December. The paper has been published on the Re-imagining Migration website.

In “Stories of Displacement,” Casar describes his volunteer work in helping families that were released from detention centers to find temporary shelter with relatives in the United States as they awaited their asylum hearings.

“Most of us were organizers, educators, and advocates, well informed in the politics of immigration and displacement, yet unprepared for the layers of complexity and the tragedies we encountered,” writes Casar in the paper. “The immigration debate is often represented as a conflict between xenophobic demagogues and righteous do-gooders. Depending on your politics, the opponents of the asylum seekers are merely safeguarding the border to protect national sovereignty, while the advocates are at best naïve and unrealistic about the threat posed by the hordes at the border.  As this national spectacle plays itself out in American politics, the migrants themselves have been rendered into characters that bear little resemblance to who they really are.  Hearing their stories was the only means we found to be viable for countering their dehumanization.”

Casar writes that he had heard numerous stories from large groups of refugees at the migrant center in El Paso. He shares in particular the story of a man and his daughter who fled the Maya Q’eqchi territories in Guatemala, due to the seizure of their family’s land by foreign companies that cultivate and export palm oil, a common ingredient in cleaning and hygiene products and food throughout the world.

“As consumers of palm oil in the soaps and various household products we consume, we are part of a barely detectable process of global production through extreme exploitation,” Casar writes. “As I listened, I was forced to confront previously made assumptions about both the causes of migration and the consequences of displacement. Over the course of several days, I came to realize that beyond being there to help, I was bearing witness to a human tragedy set in motion by global politics and powerful economic interests.”

In the paper, According to the United Nations, every minute, twenty human beings are forcibly displaced and become migrants somewhere in the world. This global problem will not be abated any time soon. The UN’s Refugee Council estimates that over one billion people will become refugees in the next ten years. 

“While the movement and migration of people is a phenomenon that has been part of the human experience since the beginning of time, increasingly, the movement of people across national boundaries is associated with catastrophic global crises such as climate change, growing inequality, the collapse of states, gang violence, and unending wars,” Noguera and Casar assert. “It is now clear that migration and the arrival of refugees in new lands have also reshaped the political landscape in many nations throughout the world … The criminalization of migrants is key element of the political playbook that is dramatically altering the policies of liberal Western democracies.”

Casar is a student, teacher, and writer who explores the intersections of education, migration, criminalization, and the broader pursuit of economic, racial, environmental, and other forms of justice. He is a doctoral researcher at the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA.

Professor Noguera is the founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools (CTS) at UCLA. His scholarship and research is focused on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions and demographic trends in local, regional and global contexts.

To read, “Stories of Displacement” in its entirety, visit the Re-imagining Migration website.

To learn more about the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA, visit this link.

Photo by Lindsey Michelle Williams