Blanca Villaseñor Roca

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1995
Centro Rural Integrador de Salud y Educación (CRISE)


This profile was prepared when Blanca Villaseñor Roca was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
In the late 1980s, Mexican-United States migration began, for the first time, to attract large numbers of unaccompanied children. Blanca Villaseñor was the first person in Mexico to respond programmatically to this tragedy by establishing a shelter and support program for the unaccompanied children deported from the United States who found themselves trying to survive on the streets of border town Mexicali.
More than a compassionate response to an acute new social need, Blanca's Desert Youth Shelter has drawn two powerful connections–one organizational and one in policy–that extend the promise of dramatically improving, if not actually solving, the U.S.-Mexico migration problem.
First, building on her earlier work with the "squatter city" of migrants that has become a permanent fixture on the edge of Mexicali, Blanca has mobilized an extraordinary array of citizen supports for the Desert Youth Shelter. Restaurants and grocers provide food. Small businesses provide temporary jobs for the youth so that they can earn enough money to buy bus fare home. Professionals–such as doctors, counselors, lawyers and builders–provide pro bono services. Blanca is systematically sharing her "citizen support" model with other migrant and social service programs along the 1,500 mile border.
Second, mobilizing her former colleagues at the local university, Blanca coordinates an integrated action research, human rights defense and policy advocacy program that is bringing the unknown facts of youth migration–and U.S.-Mexico migration more generally–into the public debate. As Blanca herself puts it:
"By illuminating the youth dimension of migration we hope to inform strategies to reform economic policy. We are expanding our contacts along the entire border and amplifying the scope of our survey work to the geographic areas of large deportations. We are seeing, for example, a correlation between migration and street children in border cities. The number of deportations from California doubled in 1994-5. The Mexican government argues that this is because of stricter enforcement. But we see that migration with California has also doubled. Our thesis is that the migration problem has its roots in our economic structure. Our economic pattern promotes migration and poverty. We do not want to work here on the border simply providing aid and defending human rights. We want to have a policy impact by having more direct relations with the migrant exporting states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Oaxaca, and Sinaloa. We want to help advocate policies that will create jobs in these states. We want to help those states understand the consequences of migration on their local economies. On their communities. On their children. What are the economic benefits from migration? There is no good research here. It is alleged that remittances form the third largest source of income in some of these states. If this is so–and no one knows for sure–then groups related to migrants should have more clout with government to insure that the rights of the remittance-senders are defended."
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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