Racializing Refugees: The Racial Politics of Asylum in Brazil

Katherine Jensen, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In 2014, Brazil instituted an open-door policy for Syrian refugees. Within the year, Syrians went from a nonexistent refugee community in Brazil to its largest. Why has Brazil –in grave contrast to much of the international community– offered asylum to any Syrian who will come? Making sense of this surprising policy, I argue, necessitates a racial theoretical apprehension of asylum. While historical scholarship has shown the central role of immigration policies for the state’s whitening project in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, contemporary research has asserted the declining significance of race for immigration policies in Brazil today. In contrast, I find race configures both state policy and practice in the realm of refugee governance. Through an ethnography of refugee status determination, carried out with asylum officials, and asylum seekers and refugees from over 45 countries, I detail how race and racial inequality are produced in the everyday operations of asylum. Moreover, while these racial dynamics only become intelligible when situated within the longue durée of race and immigration policies in Brazil, apprehending asylum as a site of racialization necessitates addressing the questions of political and social vulnerability it uniquely entails.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 235. Immigration, Race, and State Gatekeepers