Migrant centers in northern Mexican border cities as labor market intermediaries

Authors: Nina Ebner*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: US-Mexico border, precarity, labor markets
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In August 2019, the Mexican federal government and the maquiladora business association inaugurated the Leona Vicario Migrant Center in Ciudad Juárez. The center is the first of several that will be opened along the US-Mexico border to serve asylum seekers that the US has returned to Mexico. Functioning as de-facto labor market intermediaries, these centers integrate migrants, mainly from Central America, ‘more efficiently’ into the industrial labor markets of northern Mexican border cities. Part of a larger, longer-term effort between the Mexican government and private sector to put migrants to work, they must also be understood alongside the current anti-migrant policies supported by both the Trump and AMLO administrations, as well as the new trade agenda under the renegotiated NAFTA. While labor precarity is often theorized in relation to the withdrawal of the welfare state, in the context of Ciudad Juárez a substantive safety net has never really existed. Instead, disinvestment in border communities by the state and elite capital has accompanied decades of economic transformation. In lieu of efforts to pursue significant wage increases and better working conditions, I argue that we are witnessing a joint effort between the US and Mexico to deepen labor precarity along the border, a precarity which is also increasingly stratified by citizenship status. The creation of these centers may also be part of an attempt to increase control over maquiladora workers, a control which has been challenged by labor mobilizations in border cities in recent years.

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