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Symbiotic and predatory relationships between immigrant migration chains and supply chains


As migration patterns have long been a staple of ethnographic research, I have begun to extend the term 'Migration Chain' as an analog to Supply Chain in that they form symbiotic relationships and can be another predictor of future events. Reflecting over the Latin migrations into the US which I am coming to broadly class as legal, illicit (immigration), and illegal (criminal), while admitting to some fuzzy boundaries between legal and illicit, if nothing else, for getting in illicitly and then having one's child born here.

These migration patterns have both sheep and wolves. Here are the sheep:

  1. Older agricultural migrant variation -- which until further research was largely self-propelled, i.e., no criminal transportation wrapper
  2. Newer, more urban, and increasingly suburban, food processing and preparation variant -- which is now a blend of legal and illicit, the latter often wrapped in criminal transportation.
  3. Construction and heavy labor class, probably linked to (2) and anecdotally seems to have a high illicit percentage and thus I would think the criminal wrapper

And the wolves:

  1. Older drug cartel variation, highly compartmentalized around high value product sold to the general market as opposed to other Latins
  2. Human smuggling operations that brought in the illicits, again anecdotally, treating their cargo with increasing contempt
  3. Ultra-violent gangs (or maras) from Mexico and El Salvador that sit as a middle tier between the high-end drogistas and the sheep

The links between migration and supply are reentrant, e.g., the maras started as legal and illicit migration bound social clubs and morphed into the monster before us -- what I call the American Chechen (see Maras: the Chechens on our doorstep); the human smugglers served a desire for better economic opportunity from their cargo; the maras now peddle meth along the necklace of legals and illicits locked into mind-numbing 'chicken chopper' jobs; etc.

As with all distribution mechanisms, once established, they can add new products with increasing efficiency and profit while picking up new suppliers/wholesalers and clients. And taking a page from disease vectors of, say, SARS and Avian Flu that can hop species, I see cooperative ventures between the criminal groups, both within and without their ethnic background. In fact, were I criminally minded, I might do just that when the risk was acceptable such that I could break the authorities' surveillance chain.

These interlocking patterns create another barrier to entry for police and law enforcement not unlike with the Muslim community: ethnic flags such as language, dialects, appearances, traceable blood/clan relationships, and customs -- which in the case of the maras include very visible tattoos and need for demonstrable violence to gain status.

Reflecting on these patterns, I kept resorting to 'supply chain' as a shorthand description and found the confusion among listeners high. The concept of Migration Chain made it much easier to look for cause and effect, and to think about predictors, i.e., Supply Chains materialize to both serve and prey upon Migration Chains.

I think that the model is applicable to all immigrant migration chains, especially those with a high percentage of illegals and/or those with a built-in distribution mechanisms such as convenience stores and gas stations. The fact that many of those stores are both within the "ethnic region" (and so harder to surveil) and increasingly on "high street addresses (especially gas stations in suburban and interstate locations) makes them an especially inviting mechanism.

I think that it is not too hard a leap to see interaction between supply chains and, in the case of the maras, possess the violence and disenfranchisement needed to bring anything into the US.

Remains a work in progress, but the idea is still holding through further analysis.

Gordon Housworth

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