[In the reconfigured SOAN curriculum, seniors in the department spend their Fall semester reading somewhat comprehensively on two topics they select from the breadth of sociological and anthropological interests. For many of the seniors, that new foundation in the social scientific literature will inform the independent research projects they will design and then conduct in the Spring semester. As we approach the midway point of the Fall semester, I asked students in my thesis seminar to sketch the research projects they are configuring for their last semester at Puget Sound. At this point, these are just plans, but collectively this group of projects look great.]
My project seeks to explore the lived experiences of detained immigrants in the process of applying for asylum on the basis of fleeing narco-violence. Violence related to drug cartels in Mexico and Central America is a pressing issue currently, and has increased since 2006. As the situation in these countries becomes more volatile, it has created a new motivation for people to migrate to the United States. Most of these people are not able to do so legally, and then are detained when they are discovered not to have legal documentation in the United States. More people are detained at the border, and before they are deported, they are asked “are you afraid to return to your home country?” When they answer yes, they are sent to a detention facility instead of deported. The majority of detained immigrants seeking asylum do not speak English well, do not have legal representation, and do not have an in-depth understanding of the legal process of asylum application. Furthermore, they have suffered trauma that has caused them to flee their home countries, and are currently residing in a prison-type situation.
My ethnographic research will focus on interviews with detained immigrants who are seeking asylum and supporting their case with the argument that if they returned to their home countries, they would be in danger of violence from drug trafficking organizations. I will ask them about their reasons for and experiences fleeing their home countries, their experiences living in detention, and navigating the immigration and asylum legal systems. I will also talk with attorneys who represent such cases and migrants who have been successful in obtaining asylum.
For the last year and a half I have worked as a volunteer translator for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. I translate legal documents from Spanish to English. I also meet with detained immigrants who have indicated that they would like translation help in completing applications. These applications may be for a variety of forms of relief—Green Card, U Visa, etc.—but are most often for asylum. I hope to get some asylum seekers’ permission to record our sessions of completing their applications, and then ask them about their experiences living in detention and navigating the legal system.