Doctoral student’s research into child migration takes an unexpected twist

Before graduating, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences created a research profile on me and my time at USC. The story reads:

As a Ph.D. student at USC Dornsife researching undocumented and unparented child migrants from Central America and Mexico, Stephanie Canizales has already established herself as a leading scholar in her field. Along the way, an unexpected theatrical twist worthy of a modern-day novela brought her research closer to home than she could have ever imagined.

Canizales, who will receive her Ph.D. in sociology on May 11, was inspired to explore the lives of these child migrants, many of whom experience what she describes as “extreme forms of exploitation,” after meeting a group of young indigenous Guatemalan Maya garment workers in downtown Los Angeles.

These undocumented minors had migrated to the U.S. without a parent to support their families, who remained abroad. Finding low-paid piecework in the garment industry, earning mere cents for putting in a zipper or sewing a sleeve, they toil in sweat shop conditions, often locked in during working hours without access to proper ventilation or lighting. Subject to wage theft and fearful of losing their jobs, they can refuse to drink water and will wear diapers during working hours to avoid taking bathroom breaks.

Through her research, Canizales spent four years in the field, building trust with hundreds of undocumented young migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico who arrived in the U.S. without a parent as unaccompanied minors, some as young as 11 years old. In addition to toiling in the garment industry, they find work as janitors, meat packers, dishwashers, restaurant workers, car washers, and domestic workers.

Although it’s illegal, employers hire these undocumented minors, sometimes out of sympathy, Canizales says, but often to exploit someone willing to work for wages as low as $69 to $80 for a 55- to 70-hour week.

Of all the heart-rending stories that Canizales heard during her research, the one that touched her the most was that of the first child migrant she ever met: her mother.

When Canizales began her research, she had no idea her once undocumented Salvadoran parents had themselves been unparented child migrants. It was only after talking to them about her research that they finally opened up, recounting to her for the first time their own migration stories as they fled the civil war in El Salvador to come to the U.S.

Neither of her parents had told their U.S.-born children their migration stories because they feared reliving traumatizing, heartbreaking memories — something Canizales finds common among parents in their situation.

“I had to wrap my head around the fact that the story I was uncovering about unaccompanied youth in L.A. today is the same story that my parents lived,” Canizales said. “This uncovering of my family history brought my research full circle, making me feel like my whole path has been intentional.”

For the complete story, continue here!

“I’m So Ashamed of My Government’s Hypocrisy”– Diego Luna on Central American Refugee Crisis

The Mexican and US governments are complicit in the violence against Central Americans in more ways than one. Last year, Mexico deported more than 140,000 Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans – or twice as much as the US deported. Some of their ramped up deportation efforts has led to dangerous profiling against their own people. A few years ago, immigration agents questioned three indigenous siblings from Chiapas, believing they were Central American. Because they spoke the Mayan language Tzetzal, officials were able to coerce Alberto into claiming he was from Guatemala. The Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI) and other activist groups pushed for the release of the siblings, who now refuse to leave Chiapas.

Amidst all of this, Luna says it’s impossible to ignore what’s happening in Mexico. “It’s easy to talk about the Syrian refugee crisis, but it costs us to recognize what’s happening here,” Luna said at an event announcing the Children on the Run campaign.  “Today Mexico … is no longer just a place of transit, it’s become the place that many people want to reach.”

Read more here:

TruthOut || A Radical Expansion of Sanctuary: Steps in Defiance of Trump’s Executive Order

The original post lays out some ‘first steps’ toward fighting for sanctuary for immigrants in the U.S., including:

1. Sanctuary is now about shared political fate.

2. Sanctuary is not single-issue.

3. Sanctuary can be created through policy and through community.

4. Sanctuary cannot be based in paternalism or a white savior mentality.

5. Sanctuary is no longer about four walls.

6. Sanctuary will require local organizing to converge nationally.

7. Sanctuary will require clarity, courage and spiritual fortitude.

“We must prepare ourselves for the times ahead. We will be persecuted for our actions and beliefs. We will be under attack. The more clarity we have about what we are doing and why, the more we can build our numbers and build our courage. Part of that involves resisting isolation and taking care of each other and ourselves in community. We seek the wisdom and skills of cultural workers and healers to provide us with tools and guidance.

As this new president seeks to take us apart piece by piece, we must resist. We must remember that even though threats to immigrants have already escalated just in the first few days of the Trump regime, our communities also faced similar problems just one month ago. Those of us who already have practice in creating sanctuary and protection for community can make available the very practical tools we’ve already created on how others may do so as well.”

Read the full post here:



Teaching Tolerance || Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff

From original post:

“This guide was created for educators, school support staff and service providers who teach, mentor and help open the doors of opportunity for undocumented youth and unaccompanied and refugee children currently living in the United States. Educators, school support staff and service providers are often the first individuals a student and/or family comes out to as undocumented.

Moreover, they are often the first ones to witness the impact of increased enforcement measures on students and their families.

Schools should be safe havens that embrace all students and families, regardless of citizenship and national origin, and that includes unaccompanied and refugee children. The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe ruled that undocumented children have a constitutional right to receive a free public K–12 education, which provides the means to becoming a “self-reliant and self-sufficient participant in society,” the court wrote, and instills the “fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system.” However, today’s increased enforcement measures by the Department of Homeland Security and campaign promises made by the incoming administration threaten that right for thousands of undocumented youth and the 4.1 million U.S.-born children who live in mixed-status households with at least one parent or family member who is undocumented.”

Find the resource guide using the link below:

Support and Setback: Churches and Unaccompanied Youth in LA

In this essay I examine the role of religion and religious institutions in the adaptation of unaccompanied Central American youth in Los Angeles. Two questions guide this analysis: To what extent does the church provide social support and adaptation resources for unauthorized, unaccompanied youth in Los Angeles? And, in what ways might church membership hinder the adaptation of young migrants outside of the traditional protective institutions of family and school?

Find the full essay published by the Center for Migration Studies here.

Academia, Love Me Back


My name is Tiffany Martínez. As a McNair Fellow and student scholar, I’ve presented at national conferences in San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami. I have crafted a critical reflection piece that was published in a peer-reviewed journal managed by the Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Council for Opportunity in Education. I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and Dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University. I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls empower program and craft a thirty page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first generation college student, first generation U.S. citizen, and aspiring professor I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced…

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Pacific Standard Magazine 30 Top Thinkers Under 30

The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: Stephanie Canizales

The top young thinkers in economics, education, political science, and more.

“I can’t walk past a Forever 21 and not think of the dozens of youth who tell me they get paid three cents per sleeve or five cents per zipper,” sociologist Stephanie Canizales says. She adds that these are the same children who “can’t pay the clinic bills from the headaches and neck pains they get working their sewing machines.”

A Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southern California, Canizales is studying a subset of child migrants that has been largely overlooked in academia and the media: those who emigrated without a parent and did not reunite with a parent upon reaching the United States. After speaking with more than 200 unaccompanied child migrants in Los Angeles, Canizales has discovered that many face “extreme forms of exploitation.” Those who work in the garment industry are subject to “wage theft, denial of breaks, and being locked in during work hours without proper lighting and ventilation,” she says.

More from this story available on Pacific Standard Magazine.

A Home for Minors: How do undocumented minors create a community in LA?

Since Summer of 2014 I have had the great pleasure of being consulted on various projects (community, legal, media, etc.) regarding the condition of unaccompanied Central American child migrants’ migration journeys to the U.S. and their lives once here. A recent google search led me to a project led by Rebecca Gibian of the USC Annenberg Media entitled, A Home for Minors. My commentary is included in “Creating a Home: Lindy and Aldo’s Stories.”

Click here for another resource detailing the experiences of unaccompanied minors in Los Angeles, California.


ICYMI: Al Jazeera America reports, “When Migrant Kids Become Homeless”

LOS ANGELES — The community where Cristian Gomez grew up in rural Guatemala didn’t have traffic lights. So it wasn’t until he was 13, when he moved to Los Angeles in 2008 to live with his aunt, that he learned how to cross a busy city street.

Back then, Gomez stood 4 feet 8 inches tall and weighed just 80 pounds. He didn’t speak English and had little education. Seven years later, he is still slight — barely 5 feet tall and a little over 100 pounds. Otherwise, he looks like the typical American college student he is, his English only slightly accented. But his immigrant ascent in this country was not without setbacks, including a two-year stretch when he was homeless.

Stephanie Canizales, a sociology Ph.D. student at the University of Southern California who has studied indigenous unaccompanied youths from Guatemala in Los Angeles, has found that most experience short-term bouts of homelessness or otherwise become disengaged from their support systems.

The reasons for this disengagement are varied. Some children are released to older siblings just barely out of childhood themselves. Family members unaware that a child was heading their way may view the new arrival as a burden. Sponsors may refuse to enroll children in school, insisting they live somewhere else if they want to study instead of work.

Read more here: