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Seeking Refuge

Central American Migration to Mexico, the United States, and Canada

Maria Cristina Garcia (Author)


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The political upheaval in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala had a devastating human toll at the end of the twentieth century. A quarter of a million people died during the period 1974-1996. Many of those who survived the wars chose temporary refuge in neighboring countries such as Honduras and Costa Rica. Others traveled far north, to Mexico, the United States, and Canada in search of safety. Over two million of those who fled Central America during this period settled in these three countries.

In this incisive book, María Cristina García tells the story of that migration and how domestic and foreign policy interests shaped the asylum policies of Mexico, the United States, and Canada. She describes the experiences of the individuals and non-governmental organizations—primarily church groups and human rights organizations—that responded to the refugee crisis, and worked within and across borders to shape refugee policy. These transnational advocacy networks collected testimonies, documented the abuses of states, re-framed national debates about immigration, pressed for changes in policy, and ultimately provided a voice for the displaced.

García concludes by addressing the legacies of the Central American refugee crisis, especially recent attempts to coordinate a regional response to the unique problems presented by immigrants and refugees—and the challenges of coordinating such a regional response in the post-9/11 era.
Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations

1. The Wars in Central America and the Refugee Crisis
2. Designing a Refugee Policy: Mexico as Country of First Asylum
3. Refugees or Economic Migrants? The Debate over Accountability in the United States
4. Humanitarianism and Politics: Canada Opens Its Doors to Central America

Conclusion. Shared Responsibility? Legacies of the Central American Refugee Crisis
Selected Bibliography
María Cristina García is Associate Professor of History at Cornell University and the author of Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, 1959-1994 (California, 1996).
"A strong and well-written work that makes an important contribution to migration literature. For anyone interested in the modern history of Central American immigration, this is a must-read."—Jacqueline Hagan, author of Deciding to Be Legal

"An important book with very direct policy implications. García provides a wealth of information for anyone with an interest in refugee migration, NGOs, and policy, as well as contemporary history of Central America."—Cecilia Menjívar, author of Fragmented Ties: Salvadoran Immigrant Networks in America

"Garcia has tackled a complex and controversial topic and has produced a balanced, sensitive and incisive analysis. While most politicians and too many scholars continue to view immigration and refugee policy as unilateral issues that are ultimately decided by individual nation-states, Garcia's comparison of the evolution of the Central American refugee question in Canada, the United States, and Mexico demonstrates in vivid detail the many ways labor and refugee flows have always been truly integrated, hemispheric social phenomena. With the publication of this richly detailed and nuanced study, Garcia will continue to burnish her reputation as one of the top interpreters of Latino history in the United States."—David G. Gutierrez, author of Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and The Politics of Ethnicity

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