Refugees to Deportees: Tracing the Migration Journey from El Salvador to the U.S. And Back

Kelly Birch Maginot, Michigan State University

In this paper, I demonstrate how deported Salvadorans’ experiences of removal and reintegration today are jointly shaped by past and present U.S. and Salvadoran policies that stigmatize and criminalize immigrants, gang-affiliated youth, and deportees, respectively. Using life histories with deported Salvadorans, published documents, observations, and previous literature, I further argue that mass deportations from the U.S. to El Salvador constitute a form of legal violence (Menjívar and Abrego 2012) directly responsible for producing new waves of internally displaced persons and asylum seekers—de facto second- and third-generation refugees who feel unwelcome, unsafe, and forced to flee as their parents and grandparents once did (see also Abrego 2017). After briefly disaggregating migration categories including voluntary migrant, asylum seeker, refugee, and internally displaced person, I outline key historical events that have contributed to current emigration and deportation patterns, including the Salvadoran Civil War, dollarization and trade liberalization, and post-war waves of expulsions from the U.S. to Latin America. I then turn to the current socio-political context in El Salvador, paying particular attention to “mano dura” [iron fist] policies aimed at ending gang violence, the stigmatization of deportees in media and political rhetoric, and present migration causes and trends. I conclude by addressing two directions for future research and theory building: (1) the changing face and demographic characteristics of deportees; and (2) the shifting narratives around deportation, deportees, and criminality in light of the 2016 U.S. election and increasingly exclusionary border policies.

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 Presented in Session 135. Laws, Rights, Policies: Migrants in the Americas