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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.
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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.Review:
"Nations of Emigrants moves beyond studies of the experience of migration and the struggle for citizenship; instead, its aim is to rethink the nation itself. Focusing on El Salvador and the United States, Susan Coutin calls attention to the complex and shifting ways that nations are constituted through the movement of subjects and objects that cannot be fully contained within their borders.... Migrants appear not as immigrants who seek to settle and assimilate into a 'different' culture, but rather as emigrants defined by multidirectional movement and residence in multiple spaces simultaneously. This innovative analytical point of departure, buttressed by Coutin's rigorous methodology and original ethnographic approach, provide an important contribution to current studies of nationhood and migration."(American Ethnologist)
"Susan Bibler Coutin has done an excellent job of capturing what it means to be Salvadoran, both in El Salvador and in the United States as well as transnationally. Having grown up Salvadoran in the United States, this book resonated with my personal life experiences; chronicling many of the challenges that my community, friends, family, and I personally have had to face and continue to confront. Throughout the book, the author weaves together different strands of Salvadoran reality in a way that covers vast dimensions of Salvadorans' lived experiences. While she does this through the lens of emigrants' lives and struggles, she does so in a way that connects the Salvadoran experience to issues of relevance to scholars of U.S. foreign policy, comparative politics (revolution and civil war), Latino politics (political incorporation and political engagement), and contentious politics (solidarity and sanctuary movements).... Coutin has written a brilliant ethnographic study rich with Salvadorans' personal accounts of their political reality and in their own voices. But the book is also valuable for the insights it offers for the study of other emigrant communities with significant undocumented populations."(Political Science Quarterly)
"A comprehensive review of the multiple and often contradictory effects of migration between El Salvador and the US.... Its greatest strength is in synthesizing empirical data, legal histories, and ethnographic portraits."(Choice)
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