Central American Family Separations from the 1980s to 2019
Migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have come to be powerfully associated with the US–Mexico border in powerful ways in the twenty-first century. In the midst of great national distress about the Trump administration’s violent policies and practices, the images of Central American child victims became symbols of the horrors of this historical moment. In one widespread response, the hashtag #FamiliesBelongTogether is used to express solidarity and demand an end to family separation at the border. While well intentioned, this approach overlooks various other forms of US intervention through state-sanctioned violence against Central Americans across time. Rooted in Central American studies, we propose a broader analytical lens on family separation and a more expansive notion of border that includes the entire length of the Mexican territory. Our analysis centers multiple types of family separation while highlighting the US role in creating the conditions that often force families to separate. Guided by people’s lived experiences, we understand "family separation" as any moment in which families are forcibly separated—whether through murder as committed during war; across borders, as is the case for transnational families created through migration or deportation; or through government institutionalization, via detention centers or the foster care system.
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