José Luis Pérez Canchola
Fellow Since 1988
Centro de Informacion y Estudios Migratorios
This profile was prepared when José Luis Pérez Canchola was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1988.
The New Idea
Perez has dedicated his life to defending the rights of the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans who cross U.S. borders each year in search of work and better way of life. These migrant workers, considered illegal on both sides of the border, suffer abuse and robbery at the hands of police and employers. They have no rights or access to medical assistance, and are often cut off from their families whose livelihoods depend on the income they send from the U.S.In the last ten years in Tijuana (across the border from San Diego) Perez, the founder of "Centro de Informacion y Estudios Migratorios," has helped thousands of people beaten and robbed by police and coyotes (people paid by migrants to smuggle them across the border) to recover their money and sometimes, to press charges against the police. He has also been working to break down sterotypes that Americans and Mexicans entertain about illegal immigrants. His insightful articles, conferences, and interviews have gained him international recognition.Now anchored on his experience and credibility, Perez wants to reach beyond "curiativa" measures. He is working on a two-pronged approach: (1) trying to change immigration policies and legislation (presently, any person intending to cross the border is considered a criminal), and (2) working with migrant populations in the states of origin, traditionally the poorest states in Mexico, to provide information and services through radio, press conferences, and literature on the subject. This effort will, he hopes, lead to the formation of a network of migrant workers and their families as well as a constituency to support his work.