Race and Refuge in Brazil

Photo by Diogo Felix

Brazil has been lauded as one of the best places in the world for refugees, a model for refugee protection. Over 90 percent of asylum seekers who apply for refugee status in Brazil receive it. Brazil does not detain immigrants, and there is no diffuse threat of deportation. Yet its celebrated policies and grant rates belie how racism undergirds how the asylum process unfolds.

My book The Color of Asylum: The Racial Politics of Safe Haven in Brazil, forthcoming at the University of Chicago Press, exposes the racial project of asylum. Based on an ethnography inside the refugee regime, it traces how officials determine who is a refugee and what that experience entails. As officials make sense of asylum seekers and evaluate their claims, they racialize them, with vital consequences for what asylum affords and means for those who obtain it. As forced migrants navigate the refugee regime, they learn crucial lessons about their place in the racial political order in Brazil.

In journal articles, I have examined: the everyday cognitive workings of asylum-screening, as officials make sense of asylum seekers and their claims (Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 2023); the varied racialization of Haitian, Syrian, and Venezuelan forced migrants in Brazilian news media coverage (American Behavioral Scientist, 2022); why immigrants can be apathetic about the legal statuses they pursue and obtain (Qualitative Sociology, 2021); and the politics of knowledge and the body in asylum-screening (Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2018).