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About us How to find us dr. M.E. (Marietta ) Messmer

dr. M.E. Messmer

Associate Professor of American Studies
dr. M.E. Messmer

  • Outsourcing and Offshoring: A Comparison between Current U.S. and EU Migration Policy Regimes Both the U.S. and the EU have started to display a striking convergence in the management of irregular migration: (1) by further militarizing their (external) borders; (2) by initiating bilateral readmission agreements with neighboring states to safeguard their own national security interests; and (3) by outsourcing the control of migrant streams to countries of transit that become responsible for preventing Central American respectively sub-Saharan migrants from reaching the U.S.’s / EU’s external borders, and for sending these migrants back to their countries of origin.  In this context, we can observe that both the United States and the European Union have started to significantly extend their areas of political and legal influence beyond their own national borders. My goal in this project is to bring together border studies scholars who will analyze, in a comparative perspective, the complex effects that this reconceptualization and extraterritorialization of (legal and political) borders has on transit countries like Mexico, Turkey, Libya, Morocco, and Senegal, as well as on migrants that are trying to reach the U.S. or the EU via those countries. The first step will be to publish the results in the form of an edited collection of essays that will appear in the peer-reviewed Interamericana book series by Peter Lang. The ultimate goal is to expand cooperation among those interested in contributing towards a larger funding application.

  • Children on the Move: Latin American Under-Age Migrants and Refugees in the Context of the U.S.’s National Security Regime. Situated at the intersection of border studies and mobility studies, this project is affiliated with the European Network for the Study of Minor Mobilities in the Americas ( It is interested in the ways in which institutions, technologies of governance, as well as legal discourses regulate the behavior and movement of specific groups of people and thus produce, shape, and prevent mobilities. I will focus in particular on contemporary examples of South and Central American under-age migrants and refugees who are trying to reach the U.S., are detained in the U.S. or get deported from the U.S., and the unique challenges, tensions, and ambivalences faced and posed by this group due to its heightened vulnerability. Child migration raises many social, legal, and political questions that differ fundamentally from the questions raised by adult migrants and refugees, and it can throw into striking relief the contradictions inherent in the U.S.'s current immigration and refugee regime, which is primariliy geared at adults.

    Drawing on concrete case studies on the basis of migrant and refugee narratives and interviews, this project will concentrate on the following aspects:

    • the contradictory nature of family-related national U.S. immigration policies that seemingly privilege family reunification while at the same time tearing apart mixed-status families or non-immediate relatives
    • immobilized DACA recipients and asylum applicants who are stuck in detention due to increased securitization measures, and the traumatizing effects this curtailed motility has on their cultural and psychological development
    • the extent to which under-age migrants and refugees are disproportionately affected by heightened forms of state surveillance and discourses of “crimmigration” (the merger of immigration and criminal law)
    • the extent to which deported “Dreamers” are stigmatized and lack social membership in both their country of choice as well as their country of origin, and the role that race, gender, and social class play in this context
    • the selectiveness of U.S. refugee policies (including arbitrary and inconsistent applications), which creates differential rights to mobility and thus reproduces inequality and exclusion
  • Queenpins, Empresses, and Godmothers: Women as Powerful Leaders in the Narco World The widespread allure of narco-cultura has turned many kingpins into cultural heroes and celebrity-outlaws, yet until fairly recently, the drug business has been an almost all-male domain, with women reduced to subordinate roles such as drug user, mule, or narconovia (trophy woman on whom drug runners lavish expensive gifts), in this way highlighting “the notoriously sexist world of the drug cartels” (Harriet Surovell 3). Classic movies like Scarface (1983) or City of God (2002) still reflect this prevailing gender stereotype. Yet recent studies by, among others, Harriet Surovell (“Queenpins of the Cali Cartel,” 2000); Barbara Denton and Pat O’Malley (“Gender, Trust and Business: Women Drug Dealers in the Illicit Economy,” 1999); Jody Miller (One of the Guys: Girls, Gangs and Gender, 2000); and Tammy Anderson (“Dimensions of Women’s Power in the Illicit Drug Economy,” 2005) have started to challenge this view by highlighting the fact that women increasingly tend to occupy more active and powerful roles in the narco-economy, in some cases even “thriving in a world of dangerous men” ( editorial review of The Queen of the South) and acquiring celebrity status as well. This is confirmed by ethnographer Howard Campbell, who has conducted in-depth interviews with female drug smugglers along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2007 and has come to the conclusion that the drug trade in some cases has actually started to function as a “vehicle for female empowerment” (“Female Drug Smugglers on the U.S.-Mexico Border,” 2008, 233, 238). Campbell cites Griselda Blanco (nicknamed “The Godmother”), Mery Valencia, Enedina Arellano Felix (sister of the Arellano Felix brothers) and Sandra Ávila Beltrán (the “Queen of the Pacific”) as famous examples of queenpins whose “demeanor rather than exuding delicacy,” expresses “the macha style of female independence” as they “adopt stylized capo roles or macho postures but use them for their own ends as women (238). One might add Thelma Wright, the “Empress” Blanca Cazares Salazar, María Jimenez and Mireya Moreno Carreon (both of Las Zetas) and Edith Lopez Lopez (the “Queen of the South”) to this list of formidable narco-women who have used their intelligence, looks, and connections to earn vast sums of money and acquire eminently powerful positions in the narco-economy. This project proposes to analyze the increasingly dominant roles played by narco-heroines in the inter-American drug business by focusing on interviews given by queenpins as well as on their representation in recent fictional and nonfictional accounts. I will examine how these women consolidated their position as social outlaws by routinely committing homicides and carrying out kidnappings and armed robberies, but how they are at the same time admired and even celebrated as heroines of narco-cultura while embodying as well as creating eminently successful and radically transgressive gender roles for women in an environment otherwise dominated by hypermasculinity.

Last modified:13 October 2019 4.46 p.m.

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