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April 10 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm CDT

Speaker Series: Susan Bibler Coutin

Criminology, Law and Society, and Anthropology, University of California, Irvine
"On the Record:  Papers, Immigration, and Legal Advocacy"
Hybrid: Virtual/In-Person (ABF Offices, 750 N Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor Chicago, IL)

In this talk, Susan Bibler Coutin provides an overview of her draft book manuscript, On the Record: Papers, Immigration, and Legal Advocacy.  Based on 2011-2015 ethnographic fieldwork in the legal department of an immigrant-serving nonprofit in Southern California, On the Record analyzes how immigrant residents and the attorneys and paralegals who represent them attempt to surmount documentary challenges, deploying papers as a form of advocacy.  Undocumented residents who seek legal status in the United States face a potentially insurmountable challenge: to obtain status, they have to document lives that they were forbidden to live. The records that applicants must present to US immigration officials may be the very things that their lives as undocumented individuals fail to produce: bank records, check stubs from their employers, contracts in their own names. Sometimes, records can result in unexpected opportunities, while other times they eliminate all hope of legalizing. The documentation requirements associated with immigration cases also have risen in recent years, as US officials have increasingly come to see immigration as a security issue and immigrants as a potential threat. On the Record examines how broader trends in enforcement and securitization are embedded in the forms that immigrants have to complete, the documentary expertise that service providers and immigrants have developed, the materiality and legal significance of papers, and the sorts of state-noncitizen relationships that emerge in the interstices of form completion. By analyzing the mundane workings of an extraordinary area of law, On the Record argues that gathering and submitting records as part of immigration claims is a way of “documenting back” to a state that views immigrant residents as suspect.

To register, contact Sophie Kofman at skofman@abfn.org

Susan Bibler Coutin is a Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, and Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. She holds a Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology and is a professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society and the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine.  Her research has examined social, political, and legal activism surrounding immigration issues, particularly immigration from El Salvador to the United States.

Her most recent book Documenting the Impossible Realities: Ethnography, Memory, and the As If, coauthored with Barbara Yngvesson, was published by Cornell University Press in 2023.  She recently completed NSF-funded research regarding how the production, retrieval, and circulation of records and files figures in immigrants’ efforts to secure legal status in the United States.  In collaboration with Sameer Ashar, Jennifer Chacón, and Stephen Lee, she is completing a book project based on research entitled, “Navigating Liminal Legalities along Pathways to Citizenship: Immigrant Vulnerability and the Role of Mediating Institutions.” Their co-authored book Legal Phantoms: Executive Relief and the Haunting Failures of U.S. Immigration Policy is forthcoming from Stanford University Press.  With Walter Nicholls, she is currently carrying out an NSF-funded project entitled, “Immigration Dimensions of Local Governance: Municipalities, Neighborhoods, and Citizenship.”