At the Crossroads of Subaltern Cosmopolitanism and Exploitative Opportunism: The Migration-Service Industry of Latin America’s Extracontinental Pathways

Since the liberalization of immigration policy in Ecuador and Bolivia in the late 2000s, irregular migration from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean to the United States has increasingly established routes through South and Central America. Along this route, a migration-dependent service industry of restaurants and hostels/hotels catering to the extracontinental migrants, or extracontinentales, has emerged in the crevices created by the contradictions and ambiguities between global economic pressures, national immigration policies and local practices. In this paper, I provide an ethnographic portrait of the street-level bureaucrats, fixers, agents, restauranteurs, hoteliers and humanitarians who comprise the migration-service industry in three emergent spaces of im/mobility along the route – La Mariscal, a tourist neighborhood in Quito, Ecuador; Capurganá, a tourist town on the Gulf of Urabá, Colombia; and, Tapachula, a border city in southern Mexico. Building on the literature of intermediaries, I argue that we understand the migration-service actors not in the dichotomous terms of helpers or exploiters, but rather according to spectrums of transnational connectivity, political solidarity, economic opportunity, and humanitarian vulnerability.