The Central American refugee crisis has been aggravated by the Trump administration’s policies, but this administration certainly did not precipitate it. The first half of this article examines the determinant role US policy played—and continues to play—in the violence that has sent tens of thousands of refugees to the US-Mexico border, showing how Carl Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction has repeatedly been used to represent Central Americans as the existential enemy. From Ronald Reagan through Bill Clinton, administrations crafted policies toward the Central American enemy, directly creating the gang violence in the Northern Triangle. This article considers if the cost of security for the US citizenship is borne by the insecurity of Central American citizenship. The second half of the article examines fictionalized accounts drawn from the testimonies of women held in detention at Dilley, Texas, the existential enemy par excellence of the Trump administration. The reasons for their flight elucidate the particular ways in which gang violence against them and their children is gendered, showing how heteropatriarchy is decisive in both Mara violence and ICE and Border Patrol response to that violence, as evidenced in the experience of these women and their families.
The Violence of Citizenship in the Making of Refugees: The United States and Central America
María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo is a professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University. Her latest book, Indian Given: Racial Geographies across Mexico and the United States (2016), has received several awards, including a 2019 Casa de Las Americans Literary Prize, the 2017 ASA John Hope Franklin Book, and the 2017 NACCS Book Award. Her research interests include Latin America revolutionary subjectivity, subaltern politics, indigenous peoples, racial formation, migration, and Latin American and Latino cultural studies.
María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo; The Violence of Citizenship in the Making of Refugees: The United States and Central America. Social Text 1 December 2019; 37 (4 (141)): 1–21. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-7794343
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