Research Outline: Migration and Transnational Issues

Consultant: Sarah J. Mahler, Florida International University

Conceptualization & Calendar:

    The way I have been conceptualizing the topic is that it must be broken down into several different sub-areas to make it more manageable. The areas I have identified so far are: (1) regional migration (across borders within Central America and including refugee flows); (2) rural to urban migration; and (3) international migration to the U.S. which is subdivided into three components: (3a) migratory flows (demographics and directions), (3b) remittances (amounts, impacts, utilization), and (3c) transnational cultural issues (from flows of ideas to deported gang youth and cultivation of emigrant groups by Central American governments). At this point I am not sure if the final report will engage each of these areas, but I plan on having the workshop engage them and to pursue them during field research in July.

    Each of the subdivisions of the topic will need to be conceptualized and analyzed by diagnosing their present situation and then by identifying important assumptions about future trajectories that will help me generate different development scenarios. I view the identification of assumptions behind scenarios as a point of interface with the other topics. For example, one overlap with particular interest to me given my past research is the relationship between education—specifically, higher educational achievement among peasant youth—and emigration. I see remittances financing continued education (above the early primary years) in rural El Salvador and assume this will continue into the future. However, there are no local jobs for these more educated youth, almost none wish to be farmers like their parents, and few can afford to travel long distances to get high school and/or college degrees. The question then is what will they do and I surmise that many will migrate, some into cities and others to the U.S. Additionally, there is some evidence that such youth, particularly if their aspirations are unmet, become more susceptible to gangs and drug use. If, on the other hand, remittances begin to fall and there is less cash available for relative luxury items such as spending on education, then there may be less of a "push" factor toward emigration.

    My research strategy is heavily weighted toward empirical data collection but through the medium of local experts. My own background is concentrated on international migration from El Salvador and its transnational consequences. I have little expertise in regional migration. So, my plan is to spend the rest of May and June doing library research and collecting bibliographic materials from workshop participants. In early July I have planned a workshop in San Salvador. The idea is to have participants (now expected to be close to 25) spend the preponderance of their workshop time meeting in roundtable discussion groups. Each participant will be expected to choose one subtheme and write a short position paper identifying several possible and preferable development scenarios with regard to the subtheme. These, ideally, will be available via email and the website prior to the workshop so participants will have read and critiqued each others’ work prior to attendance. During the workshop they will discuss each other’s ideas and try to recommend to me the best scenarios of those submitted. I feel that this will be the most efficient way to take advantage of the participants’ own research experience and expertise.

    Then in July I plan on devoting approximately three weeks traveling to different countries and meeting with researchers and organizations, some of whom will be represented in the workshop and others not. Many US-based researchers who I could not invite to the workshop will be in the field at this time and I hope to meet with several of them. I’ll be able to gather their ideas and to test the validity of the workshop’s scenarios against other researchers’ ideas. During this stage I also expect I will meet with migration ministers in several countries and perhaps make a few other visits to officials. During fieldwork I expect I will also be able to collect more written materials to read and perhaps utilize in the report.

August and September will be months to sort through and evaluate the information collected, and to write the draft report.

May 14, 1999