Artist's Statement

Oscar & Manuel Gil

U.S. foreign policy has increasingly pressured Mexico to bolster immigration enforcement. In 2015, deportations of migrants from Central America in Mexico exceeded 165,000, more than twice the number of U.S. deportations to this region. As scholars and human rights activists have already begun to identify how bolstered immigration enforcement in Mexico has increased discrimination toward indigenous and migrant populations, what impacts will this have on longstanding indigenous migrant communities in Mexico? To help answer this question, the collaborative and multimedia project, From Stateless to Citizen: Indigenous Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico, features 26 stateless indigenous Mayans who fled Guatemala in the 1980s during a violent military conflict that engulfed the region until the late 1990s, and provides an in-depth look at how Mexico’s immigration enforcement measures impacts stateless subjects and their families. Since 2004, Dr. Óscar Gil-García and professional photographer Manuel Gil have worked directly with the original Guatemalan refugees and their Mexican born children in La Gloria, the largest refugee settlement in Mexico, to document their ongoing barriers to political, economic, and cultural incorporation. In 2014, indigenous community leaders approached Gil-García to assist several residents across three settlements to obtain legal status. In 2014, in collaboration with a Mexican attorney, the group petitioned the Mexican government to process residents’ naturalization claims. In early 2016, as they awaited the Mexican government’s response to the petition, portraits of stateless subjects and their families were taken by Manuel in each community. In late 2016, all 26 stateless refugees obtained citizenship in Mexico. Notwithstanding this achievement, up to twenty-seven thousand Guatemalan refugees remain stateless in Mexico. The project increases public awareness of how Mexico’s bolstered immigration enforcement may have on this vulnerable migrant population. From Stateless to Citizen: Indigenous Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico illustrates how despite a protracted denial of legal status in their host society, Guatemalan exiles exhibit a profound strength and resilience to support their families and communities, while simultaneously continuing their struggle to gain legal status.