From Refugees to Immigrants: The Legal Strategies of Salvadoran Immigrants and their Advocates

This paper examines the strategies used by undocumented immigrants (and their advocates) to negotiate and redefine their legal status in the U.S. within the context of existing legal categories and policies. Focusing on the experiences of Salvadorans who have entered the United States since the early 1980s, a period during which U.S. immigration law was generally being toughened, it demonstrates that it is sometimes possible for immigrants to influence U.S. immigration law to their own advantage. It is shown that the strategies used by Salvadoran immigrants derive largely from the ways that immigration law –defined as a set of categories, practices, and relationships that pervades the lives of both citizens and non-citizens– is implicated within daily life. This paper raises questions about current approaches to immigration policy by showing how laws designed to close “loopholes” in existing immigration law may be serving primarily to change the terms in which legal status and identities will continue to be negotiated.

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