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Cross-Border Discussions and Political Behavior in Migrant-Sending Countries

Abstract

Even when émigrés living abroad versus returning migrants share similar norms, knowledge, practices, and ideas with non-migrants living in their origin country, émigrés have a stronger influence on non-migrants’ political beliefs and behaviors. The reason is that outmigration affects the social ties in which discussions between émigrés abroad and non-migrants are embedded, making them more cohesive and asymmetrical. In contrast, returning permanently to the origin country reverses these effects.

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Notes

  1. Many individuals who move back to their origin country intending to settle ultimately remigrate. Others migrate and return numerous times. Knowing the contingent nature of migrants’ choice to move home permanently, my intention is to distinguish between those who move home to live as opposed to those regularly or sporadically travel to their origin country for business or visits.

  2. A notable exception is the scholarship on international diffusion, which focuses on how domestic elites’ interactions with various actors in the international system affect their policy choices (see, e.g., Acharya 2004; Bourdieu 1984, Checkel 1997; Elkins 2009; Weyland 2005).

  3. Cross-border interactions between migrants and non-migrants do not comprise all international interpersonal interactions, but their prevalence is striking. In 2008, about 30 % of the voting-age citizens living in Latin America reported that they communicated with family members living outside their country at least once a week (Americas Barometer 2008). Nearly 70 % of Dominicans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Mexicans, and Colombians living in the USA phone home weekly (Soehl and Waldinger 2010); between 10 and 25 % of Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Bolivians, Haitians, and Guyanese do so everyday (Americas Barometer 2008), and, among Mexicans in the USA, 82 % of phone calls home last more than 20 min (Orozco et al. 2005).

  4. My sample sacrificed representativeness in favor of diversity. For each type of respondent—émigrés, returning migrants, and non-migrants—I selected as diverse a sample as possible along both independent and dependent variables of theoretical interest. In selecting émigrés, I sought diversity along two dimensions: personal attributes (education, English language skills) and conditions of emigration (reason for leaving, duration of their stay). In selecting returning migrants, I considered a third dimension: condition of return (forced or voluntary repatriation and return to community with high or low levels of emigration). These three dimensions have the potential to affect one or more of the following: (1) migrants’ ability to learn new political beliefs and behaviors in the USA (Bean et al. 2006) and propensity to discuss politics across borders (McCann et al. 2007); (2) migrants’ levels of interest in importing change to their sending community and perceptions of non-migrants toward migrants. In selecting non-migrants, I sought diversity on those dimensions known to shape political beliefs and behaviors, including age, education, income, and interest in politics. For more details about the sample, consult the technical appendix at https://bates.academia.edu/PerezArmendarizClarisa.

  5. Pérez-Armendáriz (2009) further shows that communication between migrants and non-migrants influences the latter’s political behaviors, while return migrants’ behaviors do not.

  6. Note that return visits are a form of long-distance interaction since migrants remain settled in the receiving country.

  7. I have described the prevalence earlier in this paper. Outside of Mexico, about 30 % of the voting-age citizens of Latin America communicated with family members living outside of their country at least once a week (The Americas Barometer 2008). Between 10 and 25 % of Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Bolivians, Haitians, and Guyanese communicated everyday (The Americas Barometer 2008).

  8. I asked participants, “What do you mainly talk about with your friends and family? Please write the number 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 next to the topics of conversation that you discuss with your family in order of importance. For example, if when you speak with your friends or family living in the USA you talk with them more than anything about the people’s health and well-being, then write a one (1) next to that response below. You should mark only five responses, each with a different number.” The choices where, “other (please explain); employment possibilities in the USA; political affairs in the USA; political affairs in Mexico; your daily life in the USA; your job in the USA; future plans; the economic situation of the family and household expenses; the Mexican economy; your family’s health and well-being.”

  9. In my discussions with respondents, I learned that most understood discussions about politics narrowly, as specifically about elections; particular candidates; institutions such as the presidency, parties, the legislature, and electoral authorities; and political scandals. Large-n survey studies such those by Bravo (2009), which ask respondents whether they talk to émigrés about politics, may thus underestimate the volume of cross-border political discussions.

  10. The difference between civic responsibility and political efficacy is between citizens’ belief that they can, versus should, engage in certain types of activities, with the latter representing responsibility.

  11. I asked participants: “Do you think your ways of thinking or seeing things changed as a result of having emigrated to the USA? Or, do you think that they did not change at all? Explain. If respondents claimed that their ways of seeing or thinking had change, I asked if they had conserved your new ways of thinking? Since you returned, have you shared your new ways of thinking with friends, family, or people at work?”

  12. Note that these returnees did not belong to a formal hometown association or migrant club.

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Acknowledgments

The author thanks Katrina Burgess, Covadonga Messeguer, and the anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts, and Francisco Javier Martínez Rodríguez, Eva Rodríguez Rodríguez, Juan Pelcastre, Hilda Hernández, Clara Armendáriz Beltrán, Iván Pérez-Méndez, and Dhariana Gonzalez for their research assistance. I also am indebted to all who participated in interviews.

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Pérez-Armendáriz, C. Cross-Border Discussions and Political Behavior in Migrant-Sending Countries. St Comp Int Dev 49, 67–88 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-014-9152-4

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Keywords

  • Diaspora
  • International migration
  • Political behavior
  • Political communication