Reframing Migrant Smuggling as a Form of Knowledge: A View from the US-Mexico Border

  • Gabriella SanchezEmail author
  • Nicholas Natividad


While empirical research on human smuggling worldwide is scant, there is a vast, well defined narrative pertaining to irregular migration: its facilitation as controlled by heinous transnational networks of exploitative traffickers who operating in the dark corners of the migrant universe take advantage of infantile migrants and asylum seekers, traffic virginal women, allow for the smuggling of drugs and weapons, and do not think twice about leaving their human cargo stranded in desolate deserts or deadly oceans. Over the last decade this rhetoric has been challenged by the scholarship of brokerage and precarity, and by attempts by social scientists to articulate new theoretical approaches to labor that incorporate illegitimized forms of work among marginalized populations in late modernity within its definition. Despite these critical efforts, scholarship on the facilitation of irregular migration has reached an impasse. Emphasis on providing data over migration routes, costs, distances, and an over-emphasis on narrating the most tragic journeys as a way to generate awareness on the experiences of migrants and asylum seekers, provide a narrow counter-narrative to the visually powerful rhetoric of smuggling as criminal, in fact often reinscribing perceptions of migrants as prone to violence and crime. How can the field of irregular migration facilitation articulate new visions that foreground critical analysis of its own concepts, while identifying new research and analysis paths? In this essay I return to the field to revisit and reconsider with the help of migrants who were successful in crossing the border extra-legally the very notion of smuggling. Through their testimonies, border crossings emerge as grounded on notions not of profit or risk alone, but instead, as connected to people’s survival strategies under new forms of globalization, where human security, solidarity, friendship, love and humor emerge as the organizing principles of migratory journeys.


Migrant smuggling Coyotes US Mexico Border Knowledge 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Security Studies InstituteUniversity of Texas at El PasoEl PasoUSA
  2. 2.Criminal Justice DepartmentNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA

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