“There Can’t Be Numbers:”

An Interview With Laura Agustín, Part 1


the point is that there can’t be numbers for the people being talked about here, who don’t register anywhere when they cross borders and who work off the books. I don’t think the Voice’s article will affect anything because previous ones didn’t – theVoice was not the first – or perhaps in the US but not elsewhere: been there, done that.

Shortly after I began to do formal research I understood that numbers are not obtainable for undocumented migration. I have reviewed several statistical methods that claim to make realistic estimates but am unconvinced, like many other scholars. However, the belief in numbers is a tenet of our time, and people can’t be persuaded that the correct data do not exist somewhere. The idea is that if we could know how many of every type of person there is we could somehow achieve justice for everyone – well, I don’t believe that, either.

But I also think it’s not useful to take debunking-talk to the point of talking about myths, as though there were no serious problems with migration. The conversations that are avoided through arguments about numbers are much harder: finding new kinds of migration policies and new visions of the so-called formal-informal economy divide.

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