Nations of Emigrants: Shifting Boundaries of Citizenship in el Salvador and the United States

Nations of Emigrants: Shifting Boundaries of Citizenship in el Salvador and the United States

by Susan Bibler Coutin


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The violence and economic devastation of the 1980–1992 civil war in El Salvador drove as many as one million Salvadorans to enter the United States, frequently without authorization. In Nations of Emigrants, the legal anthropologist Susan Bibler Coutin analyzes the case of emigration from El Salvador to the United States to consider how current forms of migration challenge conventional understandings of borders, citizenship, and migration itself. Interviews with policymakers and activists in El Salvador and the United States are juxtaposed with Salvadoran emigrants' accounts of their journeys to the United States, their lives in this country, and, in some cases, their removal to El Salvador. These interviews and accounts illustrate the dilemmas that migration creates for nation-states as well as the difficulties for individuals who must live simultaneously within and outside the legal systems of two countries.

During the 1980s, U.S. officials generally regarded these migrants as economic immigrants who deserved to be deported, rather than as political refugees who merited asylum. By the 1990s, these Salvadorans were made eligible for legal permanent residency, at least in part due to the lives that they had created in the United States. Remarkably, this redefinition occurred during a period when more restrictive immigration policies were being adopted by the U.S. government. At the same time, Salvadorans in the United States, who send relatives more than $3 billion in remittances annually, have become a focus of policymaking in El Salvador and are considered key to its future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801445743
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 09/13/2007
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Susan Bibler Coutin is Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society, School of Social Ecology, at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Legalizing Moves: Salvadoran Immigrants' Struggle for U.S. Residency and The Culture of Protest: Religious Activism and the U.S. Sanctuary Movement.

What People are Saying About This

Carol J. Greenhouse

"Nations of Emigrants is the product of Susan Bibler Coutin's longstanding engagement with Salvadoran migrants to the United States—their situation of multiple partial belonging, their vulnerability to political crosswinds in both countries, and their creativity in building communities in the intricate spaces left open by law. Everyone interested in migration will find rich resources here. And anyone interested in how ethnography rises to the challenges of contemporary sociolegal complexity will find a vivid demonstration of the genre at its best. Coutin's work is compelling, provocative, timely, rigorous, innovative, and deeply felt."

Sally Engle Merry

"Powerful and poignant, this important study in legal anthropology traces the twists and turns of Salvadoran migrants' relationship to the United States over the last twenty years as they change from asylum seekers to remittance providers to criminal deportees. As she follows the striking shifts in Salvadoran migrants' legal status, Susan Bibler Coutin brilliantly shows how legality and illegality are not distinct categories. Instead, each contains elements of the other in its logics and practices."

Cecilia Menjivar

"I enjoyed Nations of Emigrants very much—I like the nonlinear approach Susan Bibler Coutin takes to examine citizenship, immigration, and nation. She weaves flawlessly theory and sharp ethnographic observations while at the same time putting a human face to the conundrums of immigration law. The result is theoretically innovative, methodologically sophisticated, and a truly engaging account. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary immigration debates and Central American immigration in particular."

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