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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Central American displacement and the politics of United States deterrence strategy Barrick, Leigh Christine


This dissertation examines the amplification of United States efforts to “deter” the arrival of asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in recent years. I focus on: (1) the forced separation of asylum-seeking families through detention; (2) the gendering and denial of common Central American asylum claims; and (3) knowledge production that depoliticizes conflict in El Salvador. I ask: how does forced separation impact families’ well-being and access to asylum? What makes this practice politically possible? What obstacles do young men face in making their asylum claims heard? What might more complex stories of displacement sound like, if permitted? I analyze displacement through a coloniality/modernity lens, meaning that I foreground how power inequalities rooted in colonial conquests contribute to uneven mobility in the Americas today. I draw from qualitative research, including interviews with asylum seekers and advocates, textual analysis of court filings and policy documents, and observation of asylum processes. In Chapters 3 and 4, I suggest forced separation harms families by threatening their well-being and access to asylum. I conceptualize this practice as a form of racialized governance. In Chapters 5 and 6, I demonstrate that detention throws countless hurdles into the path of asylum seekers, while adjudication tends to feminize, depoliticize, and thereby reject common Central American claims. I conclude that the political nature of conflict in El Salvador defies such depoliticizing asylum narratives, demanding a more complex analysis. I argue that the amplification of deterrence strategy expands a racialized system of governance over mobility in the Americas. It limits public debate by depoliticizing the causes of displacement from Central America, while distancing United States actors from any culpability. This dissertation contributes to a growing critique of deterrence strategy by elaborating a coloniality/modernity analytical approach to the study of displacement, which creates a fuller picture of the power imbalances that oblige people to leave their communities. The dissertation serves as a counterweight to deterrence strategy – challenging the current politics of mobility in the Americas and providing insights into strategies for change.

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