The state of confusion: Reflections on Central American asylum seekers in the Bay Area

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This article explores the problematic assumptions at play in the asylum applications of Central American asylum seekers in northern California. I address the disjuncture between the legal parameters under which asylum is granted and the perceptions and knowledge about the process of all those involved. For 'undocumented' immigrants, claiming asylum establishes a formal relationship to the state, in which they must learn to reformulate their identity and memory to fit the legal definition of refugee. Poverty, marginality, lack of education, and fear, however, make the situation difficult to grasp. Uncertainty and confusion increase during the asylum interview, where officer's interpretations of the situation lead to essentialized notions of ethnicity, poverty, and violence. Ultimately, positive outcomes depend on applicants' ability to learn to navigate the process and access the categories established in a political economy of suffering. The power relations inherent in the application reflect the greater social framework of exclusion within which 'undocumented' subjects are positioned. Thus, for many, the asylum application ensures further misunderstandings and marginality, even if the claim is granted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-60
Number of pages26
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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