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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