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Still Moving: Migrant Familes

Alice Proujansky | Chiapas/Baja California/New York, Mexico

People illegally cross the Suchiate River that marks the Mexico/Guatemala border below the bridge that holds the official crossing in Talismán, Chiapas. There is little immigration enforcement and people cross openly to migrate and buy and sell goods.

Adolescent migrants have great potential to push for social change, take on responsibility and help their families, but they also face significant risks. Their stories are a critical piece of the Latin American immigration experience, so I am making a documentary photo essay that tells the stories of these young people at transitional points along the journey north.

The International Women’s Media Foundation supported this project as part of the Adelante Latin America Reporting Initiative. Cora Currier and Gabriela Martínez contributed reporting, and the photographs were first published by The Intercept.

Adolescent migrants have great potential to push for social change, take on responsibility and help their families, but they also face significant risks. Their stories are a critical piece of the Latin American immigration experience, so I am making a documentary photo essay that tells the stories of these young people at transitional points along the journey north.


I traveled to Chiapas last December to photograph fleeing Central American families waiting for an asylum that might never come. In shelters along Mexico’s porous Southern Border, I met entire families who had arrived with little more than backpacks, desperate to escape gang threats against their teenage children. Women and children were particularly vulnerable: increased enforcement on freight trains has driven migrants to ride buses and walk on isolated routes where they face robbery, assault and sexual violence.

Conditions here were dire even before the Trump administration's extreme proposals. The U.S. responded to the 2014 family and unaccompanied minor crisis at its border by backing Plan Frontera Sur, which augmented Mexico’s immigration enforcement. But the deadly conditions driving families from Central America didn’t improve, nor did those in violent regions within Mexico, so migrants continue to make the journey north.

Next, I went to Tijuana to photograph families that represent the border city’s multinational identity. Many of the teenagers I met were born in the United States and are U.S. citizens, but their parents are not, and their lives are shaped by conflicting realities of family obligation and the opportunities of dual citizenship.

Dislocated and overwhelmed, these recent arrivals to Mexico are at risk for perpetrating or becoming victims of gang violence, sexual exploitation and crime. And their families are not unusual here: since 2010 more than 40% of all U.S. deportations have gone through the city.

I'm currently photographing my adolescent neighbors living in immigration limbo in the now-uncertain sanctuary of Brooklyn, New York.But these aren't the Dreamers we've heard about. They're a pair of undocumented college student activists who run a program called Wall of Hope, a "youth-led political power organization." These young people are deeply unsure and afraid, but they see speaking up as their privilege and responsibility.


My interest in this project came from teaching photography in my local under-served middle school. In the past, my students – first and second-generation immigrants – mentioned the same issues many low-income students confront here in New York City: lackluster educations, overwhelmed families, poverty. But in the past year, the conversations have taken on an urgency and real fear I’ve never heard before.

Migration stories are complex, with policy shaping both personal experiences and mass movements. The goal of this photo essay is to show the significance of individuals within a larger context, looking at difficult situations directly without relying on shock value.

aliceproujansky@gmail.com

www.aliceproujansky.com

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