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About the Book

More children than ever are crossing international borders alone to seek asylum worldwide. In the past decade, over a half million children have fled from Central America to the United States, seeking safety and a chance to continue lives halted by violence. Yet upon their arrival, they fail to find the protection that our laws promise, based on the universally shared belief that children should be safeguarded. A meticulously researched ethnography, Precarious Protections chronicles the experiences and perspectives of Central American unaccompanied minors and their immigration attorneys as they pursue applications for refugee status in the US asylum process. Chiara Galli debunks assumptions about asylum, including the idea that people are being denied protection because they file bogus claims. Instead, the United States interprets asylum law far more narrowly than what is necessary to recognize real-world experiences of escape from life-threatening violence, particularly those experiences unique to children in Central America. Galli reveals the formidable challenges of lawyering with children and exposes the human toll of the US immigration bureaucracy.


About the Research

Precarious Protection is based on over six years of research conducted between 2015 and 2020 and spanning the starkly different political and legal contexts of the Obama and Trump administrations. I carried out ethnographic fieldwork in various legal clinics in Los Angeles, shadowing immigration attorneys and other nonprofit staff as they prepared their young clients’ asylum applications and helping out as volunteer legal assistant and Spanish-English interpreter. I also conducted over120 semi-structured interviews with unaccompanied minors, their attorneys, and other key actors.

Cecilia Menjivar, Professor of Sociology, UCLA

"In this rich, meticulous, accessible, and compassionately written ethnography, Chiara Galli illuminates the bureaucratic entanglements that unaccompanied Central American immigrant youth navigate as they confront the US agencies that govern their lives. Galli’s compelling, humane portrayal is at once heartbreaking and enraging but also hopeful. Precarious Protections should be essential reading for students, scholars, practitioners, and everyone who cares about immigrant youth."
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