September 11th and Transnationalism: The Case of Brazilian Immigrants in the United States

By Margolis, Maxine L. | Human Organization, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

September 11th and Transnationalism: The Case of Brazilian Immigrants in the United States


Margolis, Maxine L., Human Organization


One of the most salient features of transnational migration is the movement of international migrants back and forth between home and host countries. Although international migration has never meant an unimpeded flow of immigrants traversing international borders at will, the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 have led many industrialized nations, including the United States, increasingly to restrict immigration and place ever greater obstacles to the movements of transnational migrants. This paper cites one immigrant group, Brazilians in the United States, as a case study and analyzes the ways in which they have been impacted by post-9/11 constraints. The specific focus is on the attacks' consequences for bodily transnationalism, the ability to physically cross international boundaries, and the impact of proposed immigration legislation on this issue.

Key words: Brazilian immigration, immigration to the U.S., transnationalism

The primary effect of hardening the border has been locking people in.

Demetrios Papademetriou, President, Migration Policy Institute (quoted in Navarro 2006)

Introduction

It has been over a decade since the publication of Nations Unbound, a seminal work that identified the phenomenon of "transnational migration" defined by the book's authors as the "processes by which immigrants forge and sustain multistranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement" (Basch, Glick Schiller, and Szanton Blanc 1994:7). Immigrants become transnational migrants by constructing social fields that pay little heed to geographic, political, and cultural boundaries. As such, they maintain familial, economic, political, and cultural ties across international borders, making the home and the host society a single field of social action.

One of the most salient features of transnational migration is the movement of international migrants back and forth between home and host countries. Indeed, immigration in the jet age often is more circular than linear, a genuinely transnational process with waves of migrants moving back and forth across international borders at times covering great distances. "Mobility," in fact, "constitutes a centerpiece of transnationalism" (Mahler 1998:76). While the frequency of such international travel varies with geographical distance, political exigencies, and financial resources, one of the basic ingredients of transnationalism as defined by a host of scholars is that international migrants do not leave their home countries never to return (Glick Schiller, Basch, and Szanton Blanc 1992,1995). Hence, because of their physical mobility, the lives of transnational migrants are such that they are "neither 'here' nor 'there' but at once both 'here' and 'there'" (Smith 1994:17).

To some extent this flow of migrants across international borders has always been subject to the laws and policies of the countries to which they are migrating (Guarnizo and Smith 1998). Since the early years of the last century the United States and other industrialized nations, through legislation and selective enforcement of immigration law, have partially regulated who and under what conditions international migrants pass through their portals (Boswell 2007; Cornelius, Martin, and Hollifield 1994). But while international migration has never meant an unimpeded flow of immigrants traversing international borders at will, since the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, many industrialized nations, especially the United States, have increasingly restricted immigration and have placed ever greater obstacles before the movements of transnational migrants. This article uses one immigrant group, Brazilians in the United States, as a case study, analyzing how they have been impacted by post-9/11 conditions. The specific focus is on the attacks' consequences for what might be termed "physical transnationalism. …

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September 11th and Transnationalism: The Case of Brazilian Immigrants in the United States
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