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Falling Outside: Excavating the History of Central American Asylum Seekers

  • Susan Bibler Coutin

Abstract

This article takes a retrospective look at legal advocacy on behalf of Central American asylum seekers, which has been influential in the development of US asylum law and in the creation of an infrastructure to address immigrants' needs. The article considers three time periods when Central Americans have been deemed to fall outside of the category of refugee: (1) the 1980s, when US administrations argued that Central Americans were economic immigrants; (2) the 1990s, when civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala came to an end; and (3) the 2000s, when some Salvadoran youths in removal proceedings have argued that they faced persecution as perceived or actual gang members. This retrospective analysis highlights the ways in which law can be creatively reinterpreted by legal actors, as well as how legal innovations carry forward traces of prior historical moments.

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