Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Popular images of asylum seekers in the United States - ranging from the "caravan" of asylum seekers attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to innocent children held captive in detention centers - have accompanied intense political debates about immigration and citizenship. These stories suggest that the asylum process stops once an individual crosses the border. The reality is much more complex. In order to be granted asylum status, an individual's appeal has to be reviewed and approved during a hearing in an immigration court. Lawyers who represent asylum seekers are increasingly reaching out for the help of "country experts," including cultural anthropologists, who produce reports that document local conditions and (ideally) corroborate asylum seekers' narrative accounts of persecution risks in their home countries. In the past few years, I have worked on several asylum cases that involve individuals from Russia and Kazakhstan. For each case, I have had to explain how my previous research on bride kidnapping in Kazakhstan and ethnic repatriation from Mongolia to Kazakhstan qualifies me as an expert with a valid and authoritative perspective for understanding a specific asylum seeker's complex set of circumstances (at the intersection of nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, and disability). This paper examines how lawyers representing asylum seekers use anthropological expertise to demonstrate that an individual no longer belongs to one national entity while simultaneously establishing their right to the privileges and benefits of another national entity.