The Industry of Illegal Migration: Social Network Analysis of the Brazil‐US Migration System

Date01 December 2015
AuthorWeber Soares,Dimitri Fazito
Published date01 December 2015
The Industry of Illegal Migration: Social
Network Analysis of the Brazil-US Migration
Dimitri Fazito* and Weber Soares**
In this article, we analyse the process of migration by applying a social network methodology.
Using the personal network approach, we focus on a case study of the Brazil-US migration
system to analyse the formation of the so-called industry of illegal migration. We suggest
that in migration systems, brokerage evolves not only because of historical and cultural
changes, but also because the changes emerge within a structured environment in which bro-
kerage can thrive, and this, in turn, causes the social networks to support and produce special-
ized actors (individuals and organizations) embedded in the right positionsof the social
structure in the migration process. In this particular case study, we suggest that brokerage
seems to take place through gender-oriented networks and the personal experience and struc-
tural power of returned migrants. These returned migrants usually have more varied social
contacts and types of relationships from which they can obtain richer information about the
migration system.
In the last 20 years, many researchers have called attention to the increase in Brazilian emigration
to the United States (Goza, 1994, 2003; Margolis, 1994, 2003; Sales, 1998; Soares, 2002). Coincid-
ing with the emergence of a scientif‌ic debate sparked by the Brazilian government, the mass media
have called attention to this fact in such a dramatic way that much of our knowledge of the causal-
ity and patterns of the very social process of recent international migration have become obscured.
For example, the counts of Brazilian international migrants are still tentative, and although the
most appropriate estimates based on residual methods suggest that about 2.5 million Brazilians
were living abroad during the years 19802000 (Carvalho et al., 2001), the Brazilian government
assumes erroneously that more than 4 million citizens have moved away. Such off‌icial assumptions
supported by Consulate Agentsguesses should be considered a consequence of a politically moti-
vated question in Brazilian society. Thus, eventually, such numbers acquired legitimacy among civ-
ilians and an authoritative status in the Brazilian Parliamentary Commission that investigated the
so-called Industry of Illegal Emigration(CPMI, 2006).
* CEDEPLAR/UFMG, Brazil and Survey Research Center, University of Florida, Florida.
** IGC/UFMG, Brazil.
doi: 10.1111/imig.12034
©2013 The Authors
International Migration ©2013 IOM
International Migration Vol. 53 (6) 2015
ISSN 0020-7985Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
After the Brazilian mass deportations from the United States in 2004 and 2005 and the drama
experienced in Brazilian society and manipulated by the mass media, the illegal migration issue
(especially Brazilian migration to the United States) came into the spotlight. The Brazilian Federal
Police and Consular Agencies concentrated their efforts on identifying and detaining the clandestine
organizations that support the irregular (i.e. illegal) outf‌lows. According to those public authorities,
at least 60 per cent of all international migration to the United States is now clandestine and con-
trolled by some sort of illegal network.
In this article, we use the personal network approach (McCarty, 2002) to investigate the existence
of such an industry of illegal migrationand the operation of its networks. We hypothesised that
the Brazil-US migration system is composed of specialized intermediate agents(i.e. brokers),
who make the irregular migration project choice concerning potential migrants possible and even
desirable. We applied an exploratory social network analysis to the case study of migration from
Governador Valadares City (hereafter, GV), the main urban outf‌low area of Brazilian migrants in
irregular situations to the United States (Soares, 2002).
This study is the result of research we conducted in GV (in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil)
during the f‌irst semester of 2006. Here, we present an exploratory analysis of the relational data
(i.e. network data) on Brazilian returned migrants from the US based on the GV area. We investi-
gated the arrangements and strategies Brazilian migrants used to enter the United States, either reg-
ularly or irregularly (i.e. legally or illegally), structured by social contacts in everyday life. Thus,
we sought to verify the association of the individual choice for clandestine crossing with the so-
called industry of illegal migrationbased on migrantspersonal networks. Not only do these net-
works involve agents and recruiters, but also forgers of documents (counterfeiters) and local and
international middlemen, similar to Mexican Coyotes, who are referred to as Brazilian Consules
(the most important brokers in the process, as we shall see).
First, we will discuss brief‌ly the theoretical framework that supports the network analysis applied
to the migration phenomenon as well as our main assumptions. Second, we will present the major
empirical facts that characterize the Brazilian international migration system (focusing on migration
in the GV area and the mobster organizations). Third, we will discuss the research data and meth-
ods, focusing on the def‌inition of our units of analysis (the returned migrantspersonal networks).
Fourth, we will analyse the relational data based on the GV case study, and last, we will conclude
our analysis on the brokerage and the individualschoice of regular or irregular migration to the
United States.
We assume four major theoretical underpinnings to frame our investigation. First, migration is con-
sidered a social process. Thus, displacements should be understood as socially-oriented projects
implying a dynamic integration between migrants and non-migrants, regions and communities (of
origin and destination) located in space and time, and institutionalized connections to cross borders
(Massey et al. 1987). Therefore, migration should not be assumed solely as the consequence of
individual choices isolated from social settings. As Tilly pointed out, the migrant as a self-made
manis a social representation deeply rooted in the liberal ideology of the nineteenth century,
when mass displacements from Europe to the Americas came about and propelled the American
Dream. However, Tilly (1990) argued that it is not individuals who migrate, but rather (social) cat-
egories of relations and representations.
This reasoning leads us to the second theoretical underpinning, which represents the notion of
migration as a collective project. According to Sayad (1998), migration implies displacement not
only in the territory, but also in the social space structured by means of collective actors and its
184 Fazito and Soares
©2013 The Authors. International Migration ©2013 IOM

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