Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
John "Rio" Riofrio
Historically one of the wealthiest nations with the most stable democracy in the Latin American region, peaceful and oil-rich Venezuela was never a country of mass emigration, at least until the turn of the 21st century. Ever since Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, the country has been experiencing increasing social, political, and economic decline. Chávez ruled until his death in 2013 when Nicolás Maduro took control, completely collapsed the country, and gave up any pretense of democracy; around 2015 the Venezuelan situation escalated to the level of a humanitarian crisis — triggering a truly unprecedented mass exodus. The present Venezuelan exodus is the largest migratory flow in the history of the Americas, and, in the world, second only to the Syrian refugee crisis. The Venezuelan humanitarian and displacement crises have received much attention in the press, and rightly so. However, the sociological implications of this so-called mixed flow (of migrants and refugee-like individuals) have been grossly understudied, especially in the United States. Since Venezuelans who move to the U.S. have generally had a reputation of being wealthy and well-educated, they are assumed to have a relatively easy time settling, but I suspected the experiences of those who left since 2015 could be dramatically different.
To explore this, I analyzed in-depth qualitative interviews with 23 recent Venezuelan arrivals to the States, covering why they left Venezuela, how they arrived in the U.S., and what their initial settlement was like. In this thesis, I clarify the position and share the lived experiences of these U.S.-bound Venezuelan crisis migrants — that is, those who flee or attempt to flee their home country due to a humanitarian crisis. My findings reveal how this group grapples with and challenges the refugee/migrant framework, the production of (il)legality, and the ideal of the good immigrant. Ultimately, I argue that though these Venezuelans come fleeing dire circumstances, from privileged backgrounds, and with ideas of the U.S. as a ‘nation of immigrants’ and a ‘land of opportunity,’ their experience moving to the U.S. is still fraught with legal, economic, and social obstacles. This thesis begins to paint a portrait of the understudied and misunderstood population of Venezuelan crisis migrants. Further, these results complicate how we understand the nature of movement in crisis and compel us to question limiting discourses and be critical of restrictive immigration and asylum policies.
Espinosa, Gustavo, "Movement in Crisis: The Position and Lived Experience of Venezuelan Crisis Migrants to the United States" (2021). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1696.
On-Campus Access Only