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Season 2, Ep. 1: Why are so many undocumented migrants in the US Indigenous?

Show notes

Below, you will find links to all of the research referenced by our guests, as well as other resources you may find useful.


Ahtone, T. (21 June 2018). Indigenous immigrants face unique challenges at the border: Language barriers mean Indigenous families may be more likely to be split up (external link) . High Country News.

Dickerson, C. (2022, August 7). “We need to take away the children” (external link) . The Atlantic. 

Genocide in Guatemala (external link) . Holocaust Museum, Houston.

Grandin, G. (14 January 2019). The militarization of the southern border is a long-standing American tradition (external link) . The Nation.

Kladzyk R., Pacheco, R. & Martinez, V. (12 May 2021). Indigenous diaspora: Leaving home and the journey across Mexico (external link) . El Paso Times.

Lupita: The Indigenous activist leading a new generation of Mexican women (external link) . Youtube. The Guardian.

Miller, L. (12 December 2019). Nine years after Guatemalan man’s shooting, LAPD officers get help to identify indigenous languages (external link) . Los Angeles Times.

Why Are Indigenous People Dying At The Border (external link) ? Youtube. Al Jezeera.

Vásquez, T. (26 March 2021). Texas immigrant detention center is profiting from women’s pain, report says. (external link)  Prism.

Reports and Policy

Hernández-Cañuelas, J. (2021). The Unique Struggles of Indigenous Migrants (external link) . The Advocate.

Mexican Migration Project (external link) , Princeton University & Universidad de Guadalajara.


Asad, A. L. (2023). ‘Engage and Evade: How Latino Immigrant Families Manage Surveillance in Everyday Life (external link) ’. Princeton University Press.

Collier, G. A., & Quaratiello, E. L. (2005). Basta! Land and the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas  (external link) (3. ed). Food First Books.

Fox, J., & Rivera-Salgado, G. (Eds.). (2004). Indigenous Mexican migrants in the United States (external link) . Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, UCSD/Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, UCSD.

Gálvez, A. (2018). ‘Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico (external link) ’. University of California press.

Speed, S. (2019b). Incarcerated Stories: Indigenous Women Migrants and Violence in the Settler-Capitalist State (external link) . The University of North Carolina Press.

Scholarly Articles

Asad, A. L., & Hwang, J. (2019a). Indigenous places and the making of undocumented status in Mexico-US migration (external link) . International Migration Review.

Asad, A. L., & Hwang, J. (2019b). Migration to the United States from Indigenous Communities in Mexico (external link) . The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 

Cornelius, W. A. (2001). Death at the border: Efficacy and unintended consequences of US immigration control policy (external link) . Population and Development Review.

Fernández-Kelly, P., & Massey, D. S. (2007). Borders for whom? The role of NAFTA in Mexico-US migration (external link) . The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Gómez Cervantes, A. (2021). “Looking Mexican”: Indigenous and non-Indigenous Latina/o immigrants and the racialization of illegality in the midwest (external link) . Social Problems. 

Hale, C. R. (2005). Neoliberal Multiculturalism: The remaking of cultural rights and racial dominance in Central America (external link) . Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Hole, B. (2008). The moral force of Indigenous politics: Critical liberalism and the Zapatistas (external link) . Public Archaeology.

Hooker, J. (2005). Indigenous inclusion/Black exclusion: Race, ethnicity and multicultural citizenship in Latin America (external link) . Journal of Latin American Studies. 

​​Riley, Angela R.; Carpenter, Kristen A. (2021). Decolonizing Indigenous Migration (external link) . California Law Review.

Sanford, V. (2008). From genocide to feminicide: Impunity and human rights in twenty-first century Guatemala (external link) . Journal of Human Rights.

Speed, S. (2005). Dangerous discourses: Human rights and multiculturalism in neoliberal Mexico (external link) . Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Speed, S. (2016a). States of violence: Indigenous women migrants in the era of neoliberal multicriminalism (external link) . Critique of Anthropology. 

Speed, S. (2017a). Structures of settler capitalism in Abya Yala (external link) . American Quarterly.

Speed, S. (2020a). The persistence of white supremacy: Indigenous women migrants and the structures of settler capitalism (external link) . American Anthropologist.

Donate or Get Involved!

California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc (external link) .

Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (external link)  (CIELO)

Hutto Visitation Program (external link) . Freedom for Immigrants.

The Mayan League (external link) .

Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (external link)  (MOCOP).

Pueblo Unido (external link) .


Maggie Perzyna: Welcome to Season 2 of Borders & Belonging, a podcast that explores regional migration issues in a global context. This series is produced by CERC Migration in collaboration with Lead Podcasting. I'm Maggie Perzyna, a researcher with the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration program at Toronto Metropolitan University. Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants from Central America and Mexico make their way to the US border, fleeing violence, environmental destruction, persecution, and displacement. Many of these migrants are from indigenous groups. Today, we're exploring the historical roots of this migration, and how the echoes of colonialism are shaping the journey of Indigenous migrants. Far too often, border agents, politicians, and even immigrants’ rights groups, assume they are all Latinos and therefore speak Spanish. But Mexico has over 68 Indigenous languages. And Guatemala has over 22 Indigenous language families, and nearly half of Guatemala's population is Indigenous. So, what happens to these migrants when they reach a country that expects them to communicate in a language they do not know? And how do their experiences differ from non-Indigenous migrants? In a moment, I'll be joined by two researchers who will shed more light on the factors propelling Indigenous peoples to migrate to the US and some of the unique challenges they face. But first, we'll hear from an Indigenous migrant and community leader in Los Angeles about her work on the ground.

Odilia Romero: My name is Odilia Romero. I am the Executive Director and Co-founder of Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo, CIELO, which is a woman-led organization that advocates for the rights of Indigenous displaced migrant in the United States.

Maggie Perzyna: CIELO offers a range of programs, all aimed at advocating for social justice through a cultural lens. They help families navigate the legal system, distribute food, and organize events to promote language revitalization. Underpinning all of CIELO,work are two fundamental principles. The first is that Indigenous people are who they say they are.

Odilia Romero: We're Indigenous. We are Indigenous to the Americas. We're not Latino Indigenous, or a subgroup of the Latino community.

Maggie Perzyna: The second principle relates to a human right that is far too often overlooked.

Odilia Romero: We need to rethink language and language as a fundamental human right. Without language, there's no rights. 

Maggie Perzyna: Odilia is a member of the Zapotek people. an Indigenous community located in Mexico. And she knows all too well what it's like to have her culture and her language consistently disregarded. She migrated to the U.S. as a child and experienced language and cultural discrimination from a young age.

Odilia Romero: I was a victim of the 80s, right? That survivor of the 80s, that came into this country without speaking the language. And I knew there were other kids in Union Avenue School, where I went in elementary, that we didn't understand, but I didn't know they spoke in a Mayan language, and they didn't know I spoke Zapotec.

Maggie Perzyna: Over the years, Odilia noticed that this attempted erasure of Indigenous identities went far beyond the school yard. It is deeply systemic. Through her work at CIELO, she's seen what can happen when Indigenous migrants don't speak dominant languages, like English or Spanish.

Odilia Romero: They don't know that they have rights because that information is not in their Indigenous languages. They encounter a lot of challenges that it's all linked to the language at the end of the day. If you go to a hospital, and you don't give your kid the adequate amount of medication, and then you're being accused of child endangerment. It all happened because nobody gave you the information on how to give the medication in your language. And you misunderstood. So that leads to you being in court, kids being removed, being put in foster care, and that's what we at CIELO call language violence.

Maggie Perzyna: Odilia says that part of the reason language violence continues to exist is because people in the immigrant rights movement often assume that Indigenous migrants have the same needs and identities as Latinx migrants.

Odilia Romero: The fact that you speak, that you're able to say I'm hungry doesn't mean you speak Spanish. That doesn't mean you're able to have a due process or to apply for an asylum case, or for your kid to have the possibility to excel in school by knowing these two words. Because this assumption is very dangerous that everybody speaks Spanish. But we've got to remember, like in Mexico, only 1% of the Indigenous population have access to education. The rest of the 99% of us don't have access to education, therefore, it is really hard to understand all these new ways of living, new ways of doing things.

Maggie Perzyna: It goes without saying that language violence in any iteration is deplorable. But it took a tragedy for the public to realize just how devastating its effects can be. In 2010, a young Indigenous day laborer from Guatemala, was shot and killed by police.

Odilia Romero: His name was Manuel Jaminez Xum, and he was shot by an LAPD Latino officer who gave him instructions in Spanish and he did not respond. So it ended up in this fatal shooting. Like not everybody speaks Spanish, not everybody understands. When an officer, a bilingual officer, Spanish or English, gives instruction of whatever they're doing in a traffic stop.

Maggie Perzyna: After this happened, Odilia and her organization began working with the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure that this would never happen again.

Odilia Romero: This death unfortunately allowed this conversation. That somebody had to die for them to have a conversation. And with them we have developed a language card, where the officers read it to the victims of a crime and say like, "hey, do you speak Q’anjob’al? Do you speak K’iche, Zapoteco?" And it's written in English phonetics, most of the officers carry it in their pocket. It's a three by five. We have been doing cultural awareness training for LAPD.

Maggie Perzyna: As CIELO continues to lead innovative, lifesaving initiatives for displaced Indigenous peoples, Odilia hopes that this work will help fellow migrants and activists better appreciate and support the diverse identities and needs of Indigenous peoples.

Odilia Romero: What I always say is, the Latinos the Latinx movement, their struggle is very important, but they cannot erase us as Indigenous people within that struggle. We have the right to be different. We have the right to speak our languages to dress, eat differently. I think the immigrant rights movement at times have been a great ally, but we have to change the narrative.

Maggie Perzyna: Many thanks to Odelia Romero for sharing her experiences as a Zapotec migrant, community organizer, and executive director of CIELO. Joining me today to help us understand the unique challenges facing Indigenous communities from Central America and Mexico and how these affect migration, are Professor Shannon Speed and Professor Asad L. Assad. Shannon is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. She is the director of the American Indian Studies Center, and a professor of gender studies and anthropology at UCLA. Assad is an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University, and a faculty affiliate at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. Thank you both for joining me today.  

So, I'm from Canada, a settler colonial nation state struggling to reconcile a history of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called cultural genocide against First Nations. But we rarely hear about Indigenous communities in Mexico and Central America. Shannon, can you help us understand the historical context a bit?

Shannon Speed: Sure. So, you know, I think of Mexico and Central America also as settler states. Guatemala is perhaps kind of the quintessential settler state in which a very small group of European elites, you know, controls the vast majority of arable land in the country and have set up a system that by virtually all accounts is an apartheid system of racial segregation. In which, you know, there are extremely harsh conditions of racism and discrimination, but also conditions of labor extraction of land dispossession, of fairly extreme forms of political repression, including a genocidal civil war that killed over 200,000 Mayan people in the 1980s .There are a variety of structural components of what I think of as ongoing conditions of colonial occupation and capitalist exploitation that end up being generating factors for Indigenous folks entering the migrant pool. And I'm just using Guatemala as an example. Clearly, each of the countries have their own distinct political dynamics. But I do believe that they're all, I do view  them all as settler colonial states.

Maggie Perzyna: In the 1990s, there were multicultural reforms in various Latin American countries, which recognized a range of rights for Indigenous peoples, generating hope and unprecedented social mobilization. What happened?

Shannon Speed: In my opinion, what happened is that the United States imposed a model of neoliberalism on the states of Latin America that was supposed to bring with it, a certain set of rights regimes and democratic practices that were still quite nascent in the 1990s. And what ended up happening is that the kind of unleashing of market forces that neoliberalism implies in which kind of a social inequality is left up to the play of market forces, along with everything else in a context where there weren't structures of, you know, legality or control really unraveled into large scale illegal economies, and a lot of attendant violence that went with that. And very quickly, the kind of discussions on human rights and Indigenous rights, women's rights, all got shifted to a backburner in the face of this burgeoning extreme violence that is ongoing today.

Maggie Perzyna: Asad, what are the socio-economic factors that contribute to the decisions to migrate to the US?

Asad L. Asad: Yeah, I think Shannon did a great job of laying this context for us. But you know, I'm taking a slightly different perspective sort of zooming out less based on my ethnographic research, and more based on large scale survey data analyses. And so with my Stanford sociology colleague, Jacqueline Hwang, we analyzed surveys that researchers from Princeton University and the University of Guadalajara conducted with households that have sent Mexican migrants to the United States. And they're all based in Mexico, these households. And at the time that we did our studies, the Mexican Migration Project had surveyed households in 143 communities throughout Mexico. So those surveys gave us lots of information, including who migrated, their age, their gender, when they migrated, how many times they migrated, their legal status when they migrated, and so on, and so forth. Now, despite all that info, we did not get information from those surveys about participants' ethnicities. And so we had to add in data from the Mexican census about the proportion of Indigenous people who are living in the communities that the Mexican migration project surveyed. So we don't know that the people that I'm about to talk about are themselves Indigenous, but we do know that they're coming from communities that have disproportionately high proportions of indigenous folks. And the reason for that context, before I answer the question, is because I have to tell you what I did before I can tell you what I found, right? But in general, what we found is that people from Indigenous communities in Mexico, who are migrating to the United States tend to migrate for similar reasons, as people from non-Indigenous communities, but their their opportunities to do so with a visa are more restricted. And so let me zoom out a bit to offer a bit more context. And so, we know that people migrate when they're pursuing income or wealth, or when they're following people who have left the communities before them. And so, these are all characteristics that matter for all prospective migrants, at least in the Mexican context. But they're perhaps a perfect storm of characteristics for people from Indigenous places. And so, one big thing that we found was that Indigenous communities in Mexico tend to be poorer on average, than non-Indigenous communities, meaning that they come from less economically developed places where there's a higher share of the population that earns less than the minimum wage, and so on and so forth. And there are many, many, many reasons for this, including all of the very good reasons that Shannon gave us already about legacies of colonialism and colonization, resource hoarding and labor exploitation and so on and so forth. Not to mention a long-term government policy throughout the 1900s from Mexico, of the government attempting to stamp out Indigenous identities and communities. This kind of forced assimilation process. It was really in the late 80s, and especially throughout the 1990s, that folks from Indigenous communities in Mexico started migrating in large numbers to the United States. I should say one more time that, you know, folks from Indigenous communities in Mexico have long been migrating to the United States. It's just that the folks who were mobilizing in the in the 40s, and the 50s tended to be from a select few communities in Mexico. So we're talking here about sort of the Mixtecs and the  Purépechas and the Zapotecs and the Nahuas, and so on. And so a lot of these communities were mobilizing during the early period of farm labor that was happening in the 40s, and 50s. But by and large, most are migrating after the mid 1980s, which is when we saw the last comprehensive immigration reform, that granted undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. And most of these more recently mobilized Indigenous communities simply would not qualify for this opportunity, because they were migrating too late.

Shannon Speed: If I could just add to that really quickly, one detail. I agree with everything Asad said. And one thing that also added to the broadening out of Indigenous migration, particularly in the 1990s was the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, which transitioned the Mexican economy in a variety of ways, but one of the things that it particularly affected was subsistence agriculture around corn, and so many Indigenous people who had been able to maintain a living based on subsistence agricultural lost the ability to do so and therefore found themselves forced to migrate.

Asad L. Asad: Absolutely. And NAFTA is not directly an immigration policy but it's one of these things that has all kinds of consequences for immigration. Of course, in principle sought to eliminate these barriers to trade between the US and Mexico and Canada. But many Indigenous communities in Mexico were very opposed to NAFTA. And the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas sort of exemplifies this opposition in so many different ways. But of course, it was passed and implemented. And all of the things that the Indigenous communities had warned about, about wealth disparities being exacerbated and poverty rates being exacerbated, and subsistence farming being threatened, and so on, and so forth, came to be. And so, these transformations created new waves of internal migration, so people leaving their birthplaces within Mexico to move to the cities, and then those cities, from the cities, then moving over to the United States, because that's where they thought they could find viable sources of income.

Maggie Perzyna: Shannon, you've also done a lot of research in this area, how does the lack of proper documentation come into play?

Shannon Speed: So, I think there are a couple of things there, I would say, for starters, the visa regime in their home country. It's expensive to apply for a visa. You have to show that you have resources, that you own land or business. There are a number of things involved in the ability to get a visa that most Indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America are not going to have access to. You may need to travel long distances back and forth to an embassy. You may need to have a lawyer there. You know, there are a variety of barriers there. So most Indigenous people, you know, depart their homes with the intention of migrating to the US - many of them come, you know, fleeing violence with asylum claims to the United States. And there are, you know, a series of barriers for Indigenous people to successfully putting forward an asylum claim that would get them legal status in the United States. One of the most important ones is lack of access to appropriate language interpretation so that they can present their claim in the most effective and credible way. Again, there are a series of barriers both in their home countries, and once they enter the United States.

Maggie Perzyna: Asad, are those from Indigenous communities more vulnerable to the risks and challenges associated with migrating?

Asad L. Asad: Absolutely, let me just say that there's a baseline level of risk that all folks who migrate undocumented face, especially if you are disproportionately likely to migrate without visas or authorization to enter a particular country. There's just a baseline level of danger. But then there are some compounded dangers that folks from Indigenous communities face not just at the border per se, but also within Mexico. Within their sending country or even if you're coming from Central America and crossing through Mexico, you're also facing particular dangers there. Because not only are you sort of undocumented or illegally passing through Mexico, you're also passing through a country where folks are on the lookout for you and trying to profile you as clandestine or undocumented to either physically assault you, to try to exclude you from the country, to send you back to your home country and so on and so forth. And so, there are all kinds of dangers that people are facing even before they've made it to the US border. Some forms of violence that people from Indigenous community face as they try to enter the United States are well documented by both journalists but also many scholars were studying these questions. We know many examples of children who are migrating from Indigenous communities who ended up dying at the border. And that's not because they came unhealthy, it's because they suffered the dangers the physical dangers of both crossing into the United States, but also the atrocious detention conditions of placing both children and adults into detention centers where they have limited access to health care. Perhaps the officers in these detention facilities don't speak the language that these Indigenous migrants are speaking. Many of the dangers that are endemic to migrating to the United States without authorization, become that much more compounded for people who are themselves Indigenous or who are coming from an Indigenous community where they face, what we might call compounded forms of disadvantage. So, all of the things that make your life hard already, will make your experience crossing the border hard. But those things that make your life hard crossing the border and that make your life hard already, are more severe, in the context of Indigenous migrants, or those from Indigenous communities, given these long-term structural disadvantages that they and their families and their communities have faced not just since they've been alive, but over multiple generations.

Shannon Speed: And if I could just add a clarifying point to that,  again I agree with everything Asad has said and just in case it's not abundantly clear to the listeners, the countries they are moving through as Indigenous migrants are racially organized, right? Are socially racially organized. And so, you know, Indigenous migrants stand out, as they're being profiled, as they're being targeted for violence as undocumented migrants. They stand out phenotypically, they stand out potentially because of language and dress, and they're more likely to be targeted because everyone understands that Indigenous people are the least able to have recourse for violations of their rights.

Maggie Perzyna: Shannon, what does your work with the Hutto Visitation Project and the Collaborative Women Migrants Oral History Project, tell us about the unique challenges Indigenous women face on their migration journeys?

Shannon Speed: Women migrants face all of the dangers that we've just elaborated on. But women face a whole other realm of vulnerability. They are drastically more likely to be the victim of gender-based crime than a man is. We've all heard the terrible stories about Indigenous women migrants, or about women migrants in general planning in advance with abortion pills in the event that they're raped on their journey, because they know that the possibility is so high. And again, I think for Indigenous women, that applies to all women, but for the reasons we've already talked about Indigenous women are particularly vulnerable to these kinds of rights violations and the various forms of violence at the intersection of race and gender as they migrate. Again, they're identifiable as Indigenous women, often by dress, by language, by phenotype by stature and Indigenous women are much more likely than Indigenous men to be monolingual or have very limited Spanish ability.

Maggie Perzyna: Asad we've touched on this a little bit already, but can you tell me about the impact of US immigration policies on Indigenous migrants? How do these policies affect those who are migrating?

Asad L. Asad: Yeah, I think the thing to keep in mind here is that timing really matters for the kind of context of immigration enforcement that you are exposed to as a migrant. So, what it means to have entered the US without authorization in the 1970s just is something completely different than what it means to enter the United States without authorization, even by the 90s. That two decades difference means all the world in what immigration enforcement looks like what border security looks like, and what your risks at the border are looking like. Some groups definitely entered the United States before our last comprehensive immigration reform, in 1986, was passed - the Immigration Reform and Control Act - but most of the mobilized indigenous communities started really migrating in appreciable numbers in the late 80s and into the 90s. This means something very concrete in the context of both access to visas, but also immigration enforcement. And so after the 1980s, access to visas, especially for Mexican migrants started to become very limited because of backlogs that were starting to form. Security along the Mexico US border had just become militarized, really for the first time ever. You started getting military technology surveillance equipment, you started getting more guns and more sort of heat sensors throughout the 80s and 90s, got fencing. And then the economic outlook for these indigenous communities changed in Mexico and elsewhere. And so you had more people migrating during this time, but now their risk of encountering a militarized border with armed officers where the dangers of trying to enter through a port of entry so, you know, crossing through a typical border crossing rather than sort of a more remote one that exposes you to physical dangers of crossing through a desert or through the river. That became the more common challenge for a lot of Indigenous migrants or people from Indigenous communities who wanted and or needed to enter the United States in order to survive and get by. But then let's not forget that the reasons why people are crossing, butt up against sort of the policies that are receiving them inside the United States. And so Shannon mentioned earlier, these asylum claims that some from Indigenous communities will claim as they arrive to the United States, depending on the nature of the asylum claim, it's possible that it will fall on deaf ears. And that's because perhaps the reason you are claiming asylum is not accepted by the United States as a legitimate reason for being granted asylum. And so when we talk about border enforcement, it's not just about sort of the militarization of the border, but it's also about the restrictions on who may enter and under what conditions. And even if folks are trying to go through a legal process of asylum to claim their right to live in the United States, there may be other policies at play that prevent them from accessing those rights.

Shannon Speed: You know, the United States also has policies that shift over time, that are designed to discourage  further immigration, and that very much affect migrants on their journeys. So, for example, for a while the policy was to close particular parts of the border to push migrants further and further into the desert making the journey more and more difficult. Again, the idea was to dissuade people from coming. That raised the number of migrant deaths significantly, so very much affected their experience there. During the time that I was doing the research for my last book, there was an overt kind of argument being made in asylum cases that Indigenous women and children from Central America were all migrants from Mexico and Central America and South, were a risk to national security and therefore should be maintained in detention centers throughout the course of the adjudication of their claims. And so we were seeing these very prolonged detention periods, many of the people that I worked with were detained for over a year. And again, that was to try to dissuade more people from coming. Then, of course, we moved on to the policy of family separation, which arguably was again, an attempt to simply make it too difficult and too horrifying to come and to dissuade further migrants from coming. Clearly, you know, one can see the impact of each of these different policies on the experiences that migrants have in their in their migration journey.

Maggie Perzyna: So, we've talked a lot about what happens to migrants before they get to the US, Shannon, what barriers do Indigenous migrants face that further complicate their integration into US society and limit their access to economic and social resources? 

Shannon Speed: Well, I think one of the most important barriers they face is that once they've entered the United States, they're generally lumped into a much broader social category of Latino or Latinx population. Indigenous migrants may have very different needs from other migrants. And it's very difficult to identify those or meet them when they are not identifiable as social entities any longer within the Latino population. And of course, one of the most important needs is for Indigenous language interpretation, whether that's for immigration courts, for policing, for health care, social services. And when they are not identified as Indigenous peoples, they don't have access to the kinds of organizations that provide assistance to Indigenous Latinx folks in the United States. So, this can result in really, really serious consequences. I often think about a story that was told to me by Odelia Romero, who runs an Indigenous interpreters’ network in the US about a mother who her daughter was quite ill and needed medication. And they told her to, you know, they explained how to give her the medication, but she didn't understand because she didn't really speak Spanish. And, you know, she took her daughter home and did not administer the medication properly, and the social worker had the child removed from the home. And ultimately, the mother ended up losing custody of that child, and she was put into adoption. So, you know, really dramatic outcomes when they can't access the services they need.

Asad L. Asad: Yeah, I think that story is super powerful. I also think it's emblematic of really some of the barriers that a lot of undocumented immigrants are facing in the United States. I tried to show that in my recent book, Engage and Evade. It sort of shows that the balance that folks have to strike between being off the government's radar and these everyday institutional authorities’ radar, as well as the balance of being on their radar versus off their radar. Because, you know, when you have young kids in the US, you have to send them to school, you have to take them to the doctor, you have to interact with these powerful authorities. And if you heed their warnings or advisables, then maybe things will be good for you. But if there are reasons that prevent you from heading their advisals or warnings, whether that's sort of just understanding them, whether that's your fear of the immigration system more broadly, whether it's your fear of reprisal down the road, if there is an amnesty opportunity, and you don't want to render yourself ineligible. A lot of things can go wrong and that's because not necessarily because of immigration officials, at least in the everyday context of the US, although that threat is always there. It's because of these everyday authorities like these nurses and teachers who are ostensibly well meaning, but ultimately have a lot of control over your everyday life and can really bring about family separation from within the United States. Even for people who have been sort of settled here and have found a way to live for a few years, even as undocumented immigrants. I just want to call attention to the broader challenges that many in the undocumented community are facing as people who are both here and not here, or people who are legally not supposed to be here, according to the federal government, and yet who are integrated in so many everyday institutions where they're subject to different forms of surveillance that can threaten their short and long-term presence in the United States. That Shannon's story really hammers home for us.

Maggie Perzyna: Are there any initiatives or programs to address the unique challenges faced by Indigenous migrants in the United States?

Shannon Speed: There are the one I just mentioned was the that runs the indigenous interpreters’ network is CIELO, that's an LA based organization that trains Indigenous language interpreters and runs a rather large network. I think there are over 300 interpreters currently in a multitude of Indigenous languages from Mexico and Central America. They also provide a variety of kind of social support services, including like direct financial aid during the pandemic, and food packages to families in need. Another organization that I've worked with some in the past, I respect their work a lot, is the Mayan League, which is a DC based advocacy organization working around questions of the rights of Indigenous migrants, as well as you know, the environment and a variety of other issues.

Asad L. Asad: Yeah, I think, for the case of Indigenous migrants, and people coming from Indigenous communities more generally, you're butting up against, again, some of the many constraints that a lot of undocumented immigrants face, but then the adding to that the unique constraints of people from Indigenous communities. And so, I think here is where you see the shortcomings of a federal policy. The federal government that doesn't seem to want to do anything drastic in the case of immigration, whether that's a legalization program, whether that sort of just simply offering work authorization for folks who come to the United States and work every day, and for many of them, especially those who don't have kids here work authorization would be life changing. But at the end of the day, so much of this work about supporting the unique challenges of Indigenous migrats, but also other migrants in the United States, is being left to different states and localities within those states. And so, you've got these piecemeal efforts, where in some places like California, there are a lot of organizations, or at least relatively more organizations who are working to the benefit of Indigenous migrants and their communities and their particular issues. And so, Shannon named at least one in California, and then the other one, she named us in DC. There's another one in California named Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project, it's It works on issues of community organizing and health and immigration in California Central Coast. So a lot of them are farmworkers that they help. In the Pacific Northwest, there's another organization called Pueblo Unido that does something similar. And then there is also an Indigenous program based at the California Rural Legal Assistance Program, which is focused on the legal rights of Indigenous Latin American communities in the United States. And so I think all of these are wonderful organizations. And it's a good sign that they exist because it means that someone is paying attention to the unique needs of Indigenous migrants and their communities. But I also sort of want to end on a call for states and more generally, the federal government to pay attention to the changing composition of Mexican and Central American migration flows to the United States, I think there is a lot more diversity coming in from many countries, including these, where we don't necessarily as a country understand the ethnic differences, and what that means for how they relate to the law and how they will sort of be advantaged or disadvantaged by the law. We don't understand how the law itself pretends to be race neutral and yet has wildly disparate consequences depending on your race or ethnicity. And we see that so clearly in the context of immigration. So, even as I'm sort of grateful for many of these different organizations working on the ground, to support those who are Indigenous and have come from Indigenous communities and addressing their unique needs, I think the call needs to sort of move on up because this local level advocacy is great, and they're working toward bigger structural change. I just think that the bigger structural change is not something that we can wait on for too long because the longer that we wait for it, the harder it will become to impact in a positive way these people's lives.

Shannon Speed: The Indigenous peoples have been struggling for several centuries to maintain their cultures, traditions, languages. And this kind of migration also can be very threatening to that kind of maintenance of language and culture. But what's interesting is that despite the many dangers and challenges and barriers that Indigenous people face in migration, they do come together after they've migrated to the US and reform communities and rebuild social organizations and strengthen ties to home communities, and work to maintain culture and language in their new contexts. Indigenous people are incredibly resilient and I think all across the US there are examples of Indigenous communities that have reformulated themselves in the United States. You know, that's a powerful thing.

Maggie Perzyna: Thank you so much for ending us with that powerful note. Thank you both so much. 

Shannon Speed: Thank you. 

Asad L. Asad: Thank you.

Maggie Perzyna: Thanks to Professor Shannon Speed and Professor Asad L. Asad for joining me today. And thank you for listening. This is a CERC Migration podcast produced in collaboration with Lead Podcasting. If you enjoyed the episode, subscribe to Borders & Belonging on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. For more information on Indigenous migration to the United States, please visit the show notes. I'm Maggie Perzyna. Thanks for listening.