Alexandra Délano
2011, New York: Cambridge University Press
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN-10: 1107011264
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Review: Paramjit S. Sahai

This book is unique in many ways and is different from other studies on migration and diaspora. Délano looks at migration from the perspective of a sending state, focusing on its role in the evolution of emigration policies, as they are shaped under diverse pressure. Spread over a period of over 100 years, the content is neatly divided into five distinct phases. A departure from other studies, the emigration process is seen through the prism of a social scientist and not that of an anthropologist, as is the standard pattern. Its focus is on Mexican emigration policies, yet the same are not seen through Mexican eyes alone, but viewed, too, from an American perspective. Not only is it a theoretical treatise, it is also based on knowledge acquired at a practical level through working experience in the consulates.

Migration policies between asymmetrical states

Does the author succeed in achieving her objectives? To do so, it would be necessary to understand the prepositions that she set for herself or the hypotheses she wanted to prove.  Are migration flows and policies linked to variations in the United States-Mexican relationship and could Mexico, as a weaker actor, control ‘immigration flows’ and address their causes and effects? 

Délano’s book is a window on migration flows – an examination of Mexico’s emigration policies covering different periods and connecting migration policies with overall policies. She also raises the issue of whether asymmetry in the relationship between a sending state and a receiving state has an impact on migration policies. How does enhancement of economic relations impact emigration policies? Is there a direct or indirect interaction?

Diaspora vis-à-vis communities

Délano correctly sets the ball rolling as she grapples with the definitional problem by noting that people relate to the word ‘Diaspora’ in different ways. She opts to use ‘Diaspora’ in the title as opposed to the more commonly used term, ‘Mexican Communities’, a term that denotes the temporary nature of migration to the United States. ‘The term Diaspora reflects the continuing struggle within the Mexican State to define its position on emigration’, as well as to capture ‘the diversity of Mexican migrants and their organizations’. She notes that the Diaspora has not acted as ‘a unified bloc with common goals, either in relation to their political objectives in Mexico or the United States’. This non-unified approach is equally true of other Diaspora groups across the world, including the Indian Diaspora.

Migration and foreign policy perspective

The book views migration from the foreign policy perspective and how it emerged from the agenda of ‘low politics’ to ‘high politics’.  There is a growing recognition that it impacts other interests of the state and could create ‘conflict situation’ if not fully addressed. The migration issue has to be seen in bilateral, regional, multinational, and transnational contexts. Délano touches on the domestic sensitivity of migration-related issues. She also recognises that security issues act as a damper. Furthermore, increased economic engagement through groupings, such as the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has created a positive environment for discussion of migration-related issues. Given this importance, should there be coupling or decoupling of migration from other issues? The preference is for decoupling, although experts are divided.

A passive vs active approach on migration

Délano notes that over the years, a passive approach on migration issues has given way to an active involvement on the part of Mexico. While there was more active involvement during the period 2000–2006 in the administration of Mexican President Vincent Fox, the same is not true in the administration of Felipe Calderon since 2006. Mexican migration policy transformed itself from the traditional policy of ‘limited engagement’ and ‘limited response’ to a proactive policy during the 1990s. This happened under pressure from domestic and transnational actors and the growing strength of the Mexican Diaspora in the United States.  The focus is on addressing “the causes of emigration, economic rights in Mexico and protection of their rights in the United States’.  The strength of the Mexican Diaspora has also resulted in changes in their citizenship laws and voting rights.

Engagement, the best option on migration 

There are hurdles faced by the sending country (Mexico) in pursuing its agenda on migration.  Délano comes to the conclusion that engagement is a far better option, as otherwise it would have more to lose. While recognising the constraints arising from an asymmetrical relationship, she also recognises that the sending country could get meaningful concessions by using the available channels like lobbying in the United States to put across its view point. 

Domestic compulsions still dictate

Migration from Mexico to the USA is a complex phenomenon and there is no parallel in the world.  So much so that ways have to be found to create frameworks, through institutions like the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME) and the Consular Identity Card (Matricula), which facilitate in safeguarding the interests of undocumented persons. Nonetheless, domestic compulsions ultimately rule and in the case of the United States, it is becoming more complex with the involvement of the states in the formulation/implementation of emigration policies.  It is such compulsions that have so far derailed President Obama’s Agenda on Migration, which has eluded consensus among the Democrats and the Republicans.   

Formalised vs flexible approach

Délano raises a fundamental question, as to whether a formalised relationship on migration would be more in Mexico’s national interest. Given the practical difficulties in reaching a bilateral agreement with the United States, Délano opts for a flexible approach and the need to avoid a straightjacket situation. She concludes that ‘interdependence and the framework in economic integrations have provided Mexico, even though a weaker state, with a wider space for action’ on emigration policies.  This may be true for Mexico, but may not be so for other sending countries. There is, however, a growing realisation among them not to accept things passively, as they make efforts to safeguard the interest of their Diasporas.

A comprehensive treatise

Délano needs to be complimented for a comprehensive treatise on the evolution of Mexican emigration policies and the role of its diaspora in the United States. Her work equally touches on the political clout that the Diaspora has acquired in Mexico and provides a mine of factual data, and useful information and analysis for understanding the relationship ‘not in the limited context of migration, but in the larger context of bilateral relationship, between the two countries’.


Review by 
Paramjit S. Sahai