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Nations of Emigrants

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

Susan Bibler Coutin
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Nations of Emigrants
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6351-8
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Prologue. “Ni de aquí, ni de allá”
    (pp. 1-2)
    Ana E. Miranda Maldonado

    “Guatamalan tribal children” don’t speak Spanish county nurses insist they do “SEÑORA, OIGA SEÑORA . . .” cinnamon moon faces, ash glass eyes stare Accused:

    Malnutrition, neglect, child abuse “no, not Mexican, INDÍGENAS, hablan quiché.” Ni de aquí ni de allá

    “Not Mexican, then what?” SALVADOREÑA “What’s that?” CENTRO AMÉRICA “Mexican, Spanish, Chicana same thing, we’re all AMERICANS now” NEITHER. Ni de aquí ni de allá

    M-16s protecting DEMOCRACY neighborhood tanks, decorative bullets, mundane corpses, methodical desapariciones “war made las salvadoreñas psychos” Beware the Salvi Chick: daily revolutionary nightly disco bunny. Ni de aquí ni de allá

    Vos sos “Se...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    The title of this book is a play on the familiar claim that the United States is a nation of immigrants. This claim is appealing because it combines two seemingly incompatible ideas. A nation is supposed to be a primordial entity comprised of people who share a common history, heritage, culture, territory, language, and perhaps even blood (Anderson 1983; Hobsbawm 1990; Hobsbawm and Ranger 1992). In certain regards, “nation” and “race” can even be used interchangeably (Williams 1996). “Immigrants,” in contrast, are by definition uprooted, disconnected from their places of origin, culturally alien, perhaps unable to communicate with one another...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Los Retornados (Returnees)
    (pp. 17-45)

    Greg Michaels, a young man who was born in El Salvador, adopted by a U.S. family at age two, raised in Ohio, convicted on fraud charges in his early twenties, and deported to El Salvador, described what it was like to “return” to his country of origin:

    When I went from Houston to El Salvador, I said to myself, “This really isn’t happening.” It’s sort of like if I took everything from you, threw you on a plane and said, “Here, you’re going to Africa, and this is where you’re living—now do it!” You’d say, “What?”

    It’s like trying...

  8. CHAPTER 2 La Ley NACARA (Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act)
    (pp. 46-72)

    Law assumes multiple forms. Alongside official versions of law exist unofficial, often transgressive versions that are the way things work in practice. For example, in the United States, all are supposed to be equal before the law, but in practice laws are applied differently to different groups (Barbalet 1988; Flores and Benmayor 1997; Frohmann 1997; Nelson 1984; Sapiro 1984).¹ Law is, of course, designed to combat that which deviates from officially sanctioned behavior. The U.S. Border Patrol struggles against the unauthorized immigration “system” of coyotes and illicit entrants, the police attempt to destroy the illegal drug economy, authorities try to...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Atención a la Comunidad en el Exterior (Attention to Salvadorans Living Abroad)
    (pp. 73-99)

    El Salvador’s recent relationship with its dispersed citizens has taken the form of transnational nationalism, claiming emigrants as part of the nation, and indeed an effort to promote Salvadoran identity among emigrants. When peace accords were signed in 1992, Salvadoran national authorities (who, since 1989, have been from the conservative Alianza Republicana Nacionalista/Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA) began to reevaluate their relationship with the Salvadoran emigrant population. During the civil war, attempts to eradicate those who were deemed to pose a subversive threat had led many to flee the country; yet outside of El Salvador these migrants gained access to...

  10. CHAPTER 4 En el Camino (En Route)
    (pp. 100-121)

    Salvadorans who migrate to the United States without authorization must erase their departure, journey, and presence, even as they leave, travel, and, with luck, arrive. Such erasures plunge emigrants into a clandestine realm that is nevertheless a visible (and even acknowledged or necessary) dimension of social reality. Of course, many Salvadorans—an average of twenty-seven thousand annually between 2000 and 2005 (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics 2006)—migrate to the United States legally, and this number is likely to grow as more Salvadorans acquire legal permanent residency, and thus the ability to petition for family members....

  11. CHAPTER 5 Las Remesas (Remittances)
    (pp. 122-148)

    A key reason that Salvadorans migrate to the United States is to earn money to send home to family members.¹ Families may adopt a transnational economic strategy, sending one or more members abroad to improve a household’s finances (Andrade-Eekhoff 2003; Gubert 2002; Schiller, Basch, and Szanton Blanc 1995). Individuals who migrate to improve their own economic situation may also have obligations to relatives in their countries of origin (Goldring 2003). Even migrants who do not remit regularly may provide relatives with financial support when emergencies arise (Gubert 2002). In recent years, such transfers have been hailed by international financial institutions...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Productos de la Guerra (Products of War)
    (pp. 149-175)

    Violence is generally considered to be destructive. Violence wounds bodies, kills people, tears apart families, destroys buildings, annihilates social orders, and, in some instances, makes nations something of a fiction. What does it mean, then, to be produced by a destructive force (Feldman 1991)? And how do traces of violence remain within its products?

    The large-scale emigration that accompanied the onset of the Salvadoran civil war has been seen as a product of political violence and the economic disruptions associated with that violence (Mountz et al. 2002). During the war, Salvadorans experienced kidnappings, massacres, bombings, stray bullets, assassinations, torture, surveillance,...

  13. CHAPTER 7 ¡Sí, se puede! (Yes, it can be done!)
    (pp. 176-201)

    In the mid-1990s, Central American community organizations in Los Angeles regularly hosted presentations on U.S. immigration law. During these talks, attorneys described the avenues through which undocumented immigrants could become legalized and answered listeners’ questions about whether they could qualify. All too often the answer was a discouraging “no,” followed by the comment, “But they say that there may be another amnesty in 2000, so just wait.” At the time, this statement seemed to me to be an empty promise. After all, as recently as 1994, California Proposition 187, which required teachers, doctors, and other service workers to report suspected...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 202-211)

    In August 2006, as I was completing this book, the U.S. Supreme Court reached its decision in the case of Fernandez-Vargas v. Gonzales. Humberto Fernandez-Vargas had entered the United States from Mexico during the 1970s, only to be deported and reenter repeatedly. In 1982, he reentered the United States for the last time and subsequently started a trucking business, fathered a child, and, in 2001, married a U.S. citizen. When his wife petitioned for him to become a legal permanent resident, he came to the attention of immigration authorities, who deported him once again. The issue before the Supreme Court...

  15. Epilogue. “Frutos de la Guerra”
    (pp. 212-216)
    Marvin Novoa Escobar

    Saludando a mi patria y a mi gente nativa, me dejo caer, con una rola alternativa Guanacos de corazón, pipiles de el salvador ayudando a mi pueblo mejor que embajador, empezando esta ves desde la raíz de una historia de guerra que arruino nuestro país, doce años fueron, los que se sufrieron, almas inocentes que la vida perdieron, por gente demente que sin pensar combatieron varias familias tuvieron que dividir, buscando otra forma de sobrevivir de su patria así mismo obligados a salir a otro país con cultura diferente,algo que no era usual para nuestra gente, adaptándose al sistema sin...

  16. References
    (pp. 217-242)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 243-258)
  18. Index
    (pp. 259-264)