Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees

The Diaspora Gaining a Political Voice

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Nov 4 2010 (IPS) - Pablo Rodríguez, a Mexican migrant living in the United States, is a congressman in the Zacatecas state government in central Mexico, thanks to years of hard work by migrants’ organisations to recover the political rights people lose when they cross the border.

Rodríguez, who won his seat in the Julyelections in Zacatecas, is not alone. There are similar cases in other Mexican states, like Michoacán, and in the federal Congress.

“Migrants have achieved greater social and political presence in their communities, where they act as interlocutors with local authorities. This is followed by influence on other kinds of public policies,” Alejandro Canales, a professor at the state University of Guadalajara, told IPS.

The rising strength of migrants’ organisations and their impact on their communities of origin are on the agenda of a Nov. 2-5 international event in Mexico City, organised by the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights (PGA).

The PGA event, which has brought together 1,500 representatives of more than 120 organisations around the world, is also addressing topics such as human rights, climate change, public policies, and networks and organisations.

Migrants’ associations are putting pressure on their governments to pay more attention to their citizens who move abroad, especially undocumented migrants.


“We have managed to influence the government to adopt policies to protect immigrants” in their countries of residence, Ellene Sana, head of the Centre for Migrant Advocacy in the Philippines, who is attending the PGA event, told IPS.

A Magna Carta for Migrant Workers, enshrining labour rights in the nation’s territories and overseas, has been in force in the Philippines since 1995.

Some nine million Filipinos live overseas, mostly in the United States and the Middle East. Although they have been able to vote from abroad since 2003, they cannot stand for elected office.

In late 2009 there were some 214 million migrants worldwide, who sent a total of 414 billion dollars in remittances to their countries of origin that year, according to U.N. statistics. One-third moved from countries of the developing South to industrialised nations.

Migrants “are interested in contributing to building up organisations in their communities and to fomenting social and political rights,” Lis-Marie Alvarado, a Nicaraguan who coordinates youth activities at We Count!, a migrants’ organisation based in the U.S. state of Florida, told IPS.

We Count! belongs to the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a state-wide Miami-based umbrella group of organisations working for migrant rights.

However, other countries have made less progress. In Nicaragua, voting from abroad is not possible, nor can emigrants be elected, while in the Dominican Republic citizens living outside the country can only vote.

“Not much has been achieved, apart from voting from abroad. Migrants are very interested, but they lack strong organisations,” Magaly Troncoso, representing the Boston-based Dominican Development Centre, told IPS at the global forum.

Some three million Dominicans live in the United States, mainly in New York and Boston Massachusetts.

An amendment passed by the Dominican Congress this year reserves four seats for migrants. The Dominican Liberation Party and Dominican Revolutionary Party opened offices in the eastern states of the United States to recruit voters and candidates.

The PGA event is being held just ahead of the Fourth Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), a voluntary, informal, non-binding process led by governments of United Nations member states, to take place Nov. 8-11 at the tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, 890 kilometres northwest of Mexico City.

Chaired this year by Mexico, the GFMD was created in 2006 based on a recommendation of the U.N. General Assembly’s High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.

“The organisation falls short; more resources are needed,” said the University of Guadalajara’s Canales, who is attending the PGA event. “The state does not know how to tackle migration and it lacks a social policy.”

Mexican migrant lawmakers use their positions to fight for budget allocations for migrant communities, social protection networks for those who had to leave the country in search of a better future, and support from consulates in cases of human rights violations.

Of the roughly 12 million undocumented Latin American migrants living in the United States, half are from Mexico.

“The challenge is to motivate migrants to form organisations to fight discrimination and achieve social protection,” Filipina activist Sana said.

“The migrants agenda has to be more focused. The government should commit itself more deeply to helping people who emigrate, as well as those who return to the Dominican Republic,” Troncoso said.

 
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