During this class, a number of examples were given of individuals who made the difficult trek of migration, and in many of those instances, an important player in their migration was one government or another. Policies, people, and cultural influences helped to shape these journeys, and many of them were different depending upon the levels of support that they earned. It is critical to understand that with each of these stories and situations being somewhat unique, there is no central theme for the role that nations played either in the leaving or in the coming for these migrants. However, what does remain clear is that positive intervention from government can help people staying, and negative coercion from government can prompt the going. Government is highly involved in these processes, either in a direct way or in a less direct way.

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In the story of the family of Oscar Wao, one of the unique elements of Oscar’s story is the way in which he stays gone because of the threat of what the government might do at home. This is a part of the migrant story that is often untold. While governments can have significant impacts on the choices of people to leave a country, they can also have a significant impact on the choice of a person to not return to his or her country of origin. This is seen in Oscar’s story, when he finally returns home to the Dominican Republic in order to spend time with his family. He is captured by police, and above his calls that he would be turned into a hero as a result, he is shot. This is emblematic of a policy there at the time. Oscar had been seen as a threat. Not only did he spend time in America studying at Rutgers, but he was seen as someone who might stir people up against the government. Often, these policies, which are wholly based in fear of people who migrate to America and other nations, can influence the lives of those still living in the country. Not only do they motivate migrants to leave, but they can serve as factors of oppression for those people who end up staying in the nation.

The Cuban migration to the United States demonstrates how government policy on both ends can have a major impact on the process of migration. From the American end, there was a policy in place that allowed Cuban migrants to stay if they were able to reach the shore of America. What this did, then was both prompt people to come and encourage entirely risky behavior. People would come across on homemade boats, and in some cases, they would leave the groups they were within order to escape and stay in the United States once they were here. In some more high profile cases, people paid individuals to smuggle them into the US, and this brought on significant danger for these people and their families. By accepting migrants in such a passive way, the US was sticking its finger in the eye of the Cuban government, which sought to keep tight control over its people. At the same time, it was both benefitting the Cubans who made their way to America and harming them. For those who were lucky enough to make it to the US, there was the opportunity to make a life, especially because these people were seen as heroic and were accepted into the US in a way that was fuller than that of other Latin American migrants. However, many people died as a result of the US dangling a carrot in front of the Cuban people.

While getting to America might be difficult, as is shown in the Cuban example, there are often government policies in place that influence life for migrants once they arrive. The plight of Daniel Castellanos is a good example of this. In the book on his life, it is demonstrated that he wanted desperately to come to America and make a full life for himself. However, when he got here, he got swallowed up in an American system of laws that valued some lives of workers over the lives of others. For instance, he was paid less than full wages, and he was given less than full time work. He was housed in a place that was not safe, and in fact, it did not allow him to achieve his full potential. In almost every way, he was treated like little more than a common slave. This shows that a government’s wide expanse of jobs can draw a person into a country, but its unwillingness to pass policies to protect workers from exploitation can make it impossible for a person to find success in a country. This story is emblematic of that struggle and of the role that government can play both in a successful migration and an unsuccessful attempt to take advantage of the good parts of migration.

Ultimately it appears that governments play a great role in influencing the movement of people. As the examples show, however, government plays an even more important role in the success or failure of people once they have moved. Specifically, government policies regarding work and the protection of workers can great influence whether a worker is able to actually make a life for himself, or whether that worker will just be an asset that is used up by those in power.

  • Berninghaus, Siegfried, and Hans Günther Seifert-Vogt. “The role of the target saving motive in guest worker migration: A theoretical study.”Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control 17.1 (1993): 181-205.
  • Díaz, Junot. The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao. Penguin, 2007.