Workshop Report: “New Migration Patterns in the Western Hemisphere: Challenges for the new Century”

By Stephanie Schütze


The Explorative Workshop „New Migration Patterns in the Western Hemisphere: Challenges for the New Century“ took place on 13-14 January 2017 at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin. It was convened by Stephanie Schütze (Freie Universität Berlin, Lateinamerika-Institut) and part of the strategic cooperation between the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland. 

The challenge of contemporary migration is truly a global one. While markedly distinct, some of the general conditions migrants face on a global scale manifest in ways particular to their diverse regions. Poverty, lack of economic prospects, and widespread inequality continue to shape migratory movements, yet important developments of the last decade within the Western Hemisphere (here understood as the Americas and Western Europe, including their transatlantic relations) have become great challenges to scholars, governments, and intergovernmental organisations alike. A continued reliance on dated governance models to address new migration patterns has led to disastrous results for many. In the United States, President Trump’s harsh xenophobic rhetoric promises an intensification of immigration enforcement. Great Britain seeks to quit the European Union to regain control over its national borders to restrict the number of people entering the country. Many Central European governments have flatly refused to host Syrian refugees in desperate need of protection. In 2016, the number of migrant victims in the Mediterranean Sea reached an all-time high, as 3,800 people perished while trying to reach Europe by boat. In 2014, around 40,000 unaccompanied underage persons—fleeing from violence and seeking family reunification—reached the Mexico-US border only to find themselves in detention.

Objectives of the workshop and the research project

Migration and Identity: Mexican-American Flag in a Mexican Neighborhood in Chicago. Photo: Stephanie Schütze

Facing the global challenge of migration, our workshop explored new mobility patterns in the Western Hemisphere. The two-day workshop took place at the Forum Transregionale Studien and was part of its cooperation project with the Max Weber Stiftung. The main objective was to enquire whether the main characteristics and actors in the realm of migration have changed and, if so, how they have been transformed in particular. In order to address this intriguing question, the workshop brought together migration specialists from Germany, Mexico and the United States, with the participation of the following institutions and scholars: from the Lateinamerika-Institut of Freie Universität Berlin, Stephanie Schütze, who organized the workshop, Felipe Rubio and Ximena Alba. From the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas in Mexico, Jorge Durand, Jorge A. Schiavon and Carlos Vilalta; from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Xóchitl Bada, Andreas Feldmann and Adam Goodman. Their research interests include phenomena like the political advocacy of migrant organizations, migration-related violence and organized crime, migration policies and governance, as well as deportation and return-migration. The workshop was particularly interested in framing research questions and developing methodologies for a collaborative research project planned by a cooperation of these institutions. The workshop’s aim therefore related to the agenda of the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung, as it fostered the collaboration among international scholars to discuss the complexity of transregional migration.

The main objectives of the intended research project include: generating scientific knowledge on new migration patterns of the Western Hemisphere; fostering a dialogue between policy makers, practitioners (civil society and non-governmental organizations), and academics about ways to address new challenges posed by migration; and creating a transregional interdisciplinary network for migration studies. The project will analyze the main characteristics and actors of migration corridors in the Western Hemisphere to highlight broader continuities and changes. Moreover, it intends to map interregional dependencies between Europe and the Americas and to explore what the two regions might learn from each other.

First day

On the first day, the discussion focused on the improvement of an earlier research cooperation of the three involved institutions, with inputs by all participants. We reduced the framework of the discussion to new mobility patterns by debating three specific levels of analysis on current migrations:

First, we discussed the impact of violence on migration. Extreme violence forces people to abandon their communities, a predicament that continues as they migrate towards or settle in new destinations. Is it appropriate to talk about structural violence in this context? Violence is part of the everyday life of a great part of the world’s population. Extortion, mafia networks, gangs, and other forms of violence are reasons for migration and flight. What has changed is the multiplicity of contexts in which they emerge today. These forms of violence are a reason for migration, but also a result of it. This led us to the question which migratory policies can be established in order to face these new migration patterns resulting from violence?

Second, we analyzed policies regarding changing migration patterns at different levels (global, regional, national, and subnational). Our analysis strives to sharpen general understandings of the conditions that inform state practices related to migration, evaluating their impact on migrants’ well-being and examining the challenges posed by the emergence of new norms in this area, such as shared responsibility, institutional coherence, and the balance of responsibility between the countries of origin and transit, as well as the target regions.

Third, we explored advocacy strategies of migrants and their organizational forms. As migrants found civil society organizations (e.g. hometown associations) in their host societies and develop transnational activities in their countries of origin (e.g. development projects in their hometowns), governments of sending states become increasingly involved in the welfare of their citizens abroad (e.g. support migrants’ legal concerns). In this framework, efforts for transnational rights advocacy flourish. Through this focus we aim to bridge the research on immigrant advocacy with a transnational perspective on migration patterns that interrogates the role of migrant civil society practices across borders.

Second Day

On the second day, the discussion of the research project was complemented by Margit Fauser (Ruhr-Universität Bochum). Her expertise regarding the inherent processes of the current migration conflux to Europe and the relating policies helped to sharpen the profile of the project. The main questions that determined this session were: How can dialogues about migration patterns, migration policies and migrant advocacies between European and American migration scholars take place? What can these regions learn from each other?

We concluded that there is a critical need for scholars, policy makers and practitioners to shift their gaze and examine migration and immigrant integration experiences from other world regions affected by population movements and their social consequences. Contemporary migration can only be understood through collaborative, interdisciplinary research in a transregional framework, taking into account historical and global perspectives. Therefore, the outlined research project aims to realize collaboration by investigating the developing migration patterns in the Americas in order to establish a dialogue with european Migration Studies.


See also: New Migration Patterns in the Western Hemisphere – Interview with Xóchitl Bada (2017), TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research


Citation: Stephanie Schütze, Workshop Report: “New Migration Patterns in the Western Hemisphere: Challenges for the new Century”, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 27.03.2017,

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien is a research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. The Forum provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. In cooperation with universities and research institutions in Berlin and the rest of Germany, it carries out research projects that examine other regions of the world and their relationship to Germany and Europe systematically and with new questions.

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