Chiara Galli (Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow)
Title: “Estaba muy peligroso” [there was so much danger]: The migration decision-making of Central American refugee youth
Abstract: We tend to think about migration decisions in dichotomous terms, categorizing individuals on the move unproblematically as either voluntary (economic) migrants or involuntary (political) refugees. Much has been theorized about the migration decisions of the former group. Conversely, there has been surprising little theorization on the migration decisions of the latter. Scholars have limited themselves to labeling some migratory flows from particular countries, in specific historical moments, as forced, listing macro-level societal push factors to justify those decisions. Yet the fact that structural forces compel individuals to leave their homes does not imply they exercise no agency in this process, and we should pay attention to how individuals make migration decisions while managing the risks associated with violence in their home countries. Examining the experiences of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who migrate alone to join parents and relatives to the U.S., this paper develops a micro-level theory of migration decision-making in a context of violence. I first demonstrate how violence in Central America is rooted in historical and structural forces and patterned along the dimensions of gender and age. As a result of the high rates of criminal victimization of youths, the forcible gang recruitment of teenage boys, and gendered violence within the home, youths are exposed to different types and degrees of risk in their home countries. I next explain how micro-level migration decisions take place in this context by showing how Central American youths and their families assess and manage the risks associated with violence and mobilize information and resources flowing through migrant networks to strategize migration decisions, while also attempting to overcome the significant constraints imposed by restrictive U.S. immigration policy.
Bio: Chiara Galli is Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow in the Sociology Department at Cornell University. She is also an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Inequality. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California Los Angeles in 2020. Her research interests include: international migration, migration and asylum policy, law and society, children and youth studies, and qualitative research methods. Her book project is an ethnographic study examining Central American unaccompanied minors' experiences as they navigate applications for asylum and other forms of humanitarian immigration relief in the U.S., with the help of immigration attorneys. Her research has been published in Social Problems, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, and Ethnic and Racial Studies and has been generously supported by the National Science Foundation, the Haines Lindley Foundation, the P.E.O. Foundation, the California Immigration Research Initiative, and the Latino Center for Leadership Development..