Working Paper

Foreign Detachment: The Making and Unmaking of Cross-Border Ties

Published 1 January 2014 / By Roger Waldinger

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The people opting for life in another state are not just immigrants, but also emigrants, retaining ties to people and places left behind. In moving to another country, the migrants pull one society onto the territory of another state, creating a zone of intersocietal convergence, linking “here” and “there.” Still of the sending state, even though no longer in it, the immigrants transplant the home country society onto receiving state ground. In settling down and acquiring competencies that the new environment values and rewards, the migrants gain ever greater capacity to help out relatives and communities left behind. Emigration states, in turn, extend their influence across boundaries to protect nationals and retain their loyalty abroad. Time, however, proves corrosive, as the paradox of international migration kicks in. The migrants find that their own lives, just like the resources that lured them to a foreign land, get confined to the territory on which they have converged. Physical distance yields social separation; the new society proves transformative, making the migrants increasingly different from the people left behind; an increasingly large share of the core familial network changes location, leading the center of social gravity to shift from “there” to “here.” With time, intersocietal divergence becomes the dominant trend, as most immigrants and immigrant offspring become progressively dis-connected, reorienting concerns and commitments to the place where they actually live. Starting out as strangers, the migrants eventually find themselves not just in but also of the receiving state, leaving them estranged from the places where their journey started and the people who remain there.


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