Date of Award

August 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jamie Winders

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua risk their lives traveling to and toward the U.S. Long before reaching the U.S.-Mexico border, however, they travel thousands of miles across Central America and Mexico, often stopping off in migrant shelters scattered along the way. Whether travelling by foot or riding atop large freight trains known as “the Beast,” migrants spend weeks, months, and even years in transit, navigating a dense landscape of hardening borders and immigration enforcement in Mexico and the U.S. while encountering incredible dangers along the way, such as assault, extortion, kidnapping, robbery, and murder. This dissertation argues that migration journeys and the places between origin and destination are now key to making sense of the migration process and of migrants’ experiences with displacement, governance, mobility, and violence, as these dynamics increasingly play out in such spaces and as migrants spend more time in transit. Previous journalistic and scholarly accounts of these journeys have typically been framed around tragedy and violence, diminishing migrants’ agency and reducing them to individuals incapable of experiencing anything but tragedy and violence. Deviating from these accounts, this dissertation examines violence and insecurity along migrants’ journeys, as well as their resiliency and resourcefulness, to show that there is much more to migration journeys and to thereby shed light on forms of agency, resistance, and meaning-making that emerge in and through the act of transit. In doing so, it attempts to humanize migrants and to recognize the complexity of their journeys, thus adding depth and nuance to understandings of migrants and of the migration process often rendered lifeless, overly-simplistic, and one-dimensional by journalists and scholars alike.


Open Access