Generating Discuttion: Sexuality, Migration, and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status (May 16)

Sexuality, Migration, and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status

by Eithne Luibheid

Main Points

  1. Illegality is a produced “process” and therefore changeable: Illegality is framed and produced through shifting relations of power. The author indicates that illegalization, as well as legalization, is a process; therefore, legal immigrants can become illegal, and illegal immigrants can become legal depending on the “shifting relations of power.” Realizing that U.S. migration policies are strongly connected to its history is also important. When framing “illegal” immigrants, “histories of racism, empire, and capitalism remain central to the processes that render certain groups more likely than others to be deemed illegal” (292).
  2. Individualization of the illegal status: Illegal immigration is tend to be treated as “a self-evident problem that is generated by and reflects undesirable individuals or criminal operations.” Subsequently, undocumented immigration and immigrant illegality are considered separately from “larger structural processes and long histories of inequality,” and are “individualized, instead” (291). This concept makes people associate illegal immigrants with a fixed category or “type” of undesirable person. In addition, having legal status becomes “constructed as a sign of individual good character, rather than as the outcomes of structural advantage” (291).
  3. Excluded people from the family preference system are more likely to face problems to stay legal, which is costly and uncertain: Married male-female couples have the most privileged position as legal immigrants under the family preference system. By contrast, same-sex couples are not allowed to use their relationships as a basis for legal immigration. The Uniting American Family Act (UAFA) was intended to recognize “permanent partnership between same-sex couples as a basis for legal immigration into the United States” (294). (This bill was published in February 2013.) Permanent relationships are not equivalent to marriage, and for same-sex couples, becoming and staying “legal” is costly and uncertain, and requires labor.
  4. Heteronormativity refers to “a range of normalizing discourses and practices that seeks to cultivate and privilege a heterosexual population” while “insisting that heterosexuality is ‘normal’ and timeless rather than a product of economy, society, culture, and political struggle” (296). This homo-hetero binary and other various hierarchies interconnect with “normative sexuality” to produce a range of “subalternized social groups and unvalued family forms.” By amending migration laws and policies repeatedly, it leads not only to increasing preclusion, exclusion, and deportation of family members, but also to tie families up to “mixed status,” that each family member has different legal statuses.
  5. Neoliberal governmentality and affidavits: Under the contemporary neoliberal gvernmentarity, many responsibilities, which had been provided by the system previously, are privatized, and lack of access are redefined as an individual failing rather than a reflection of systemic inequality. Now the role of the state is “empowering” people to become “entrepreneurial subjects of choice engaged in a quest for self-realization” (300). Under the “affidavit of support” system, it was attempted to manage risks associated with legally admitted immigrants and to transform these immigrants into “good” citizens. This system is also controlled by relations of power and various hierarchies, and people are required surveillance not only by the system but also within the family members in order to stay legal. In addition, since permanent relationships between same-sex coupes are not equivalent to marriage, “their relationships are not simply subjected to a higher degree of security, but also carry the presumption of falsity or fraud within a heteronormative logic” (303).


  • How can policies about same-sex marriage affect immigrant policies of same-sex couples?
  • How and why are same-sex couples discriminated from the family preference system for immigrants?
  • Who are the “desirable” citizens for the U.S. originally? Who are excluded from this concept and why?
  • Who will really benefit from those migration policies?

My Thoughts

Immigration policies are controlled by various relations of power in any country. After I read this article, I thought that framing lines between legal and illegal status can produce more social, economic, and political problems even if it was originally attempted to resolve those issues. To some extent, I understood the struggle of the state to keep the nation safe and ideal for them, but judging people by kind of stigmatizing certain people will lead to the social instability in many ways. Before I read this article, I did not know how strongly sexuality affects one’s immigration status. As the author mentions, however, this phenomenon is not the recent, but greatly related to histories of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. In order to improve the current migrant situations, not only of same-sex couples but also of other people who are segregated from current system, understanding  “why” they are segregated from systemic and historical perspectives will be helpful. Focusing just on the current situations will lead to the new warps in the society.



One thought on “Generating Discuttion: Sexuality, Migration, and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status (May 16)

  1. Because same-sex couples are not allowed to get married, they are not given the same legal benefits, such as using their relationship as a basis for legal immigrations, as heterosexual married couples. Furthermore, heterosexuals, particularly whites, are the “desirable” citizens because they will potentially produce future U.S. citizens. Once again, homosexuals are excluded because they do not produce children in the same way that heterosexual couples do; however same-sex couples do have options for having children including surrogacy.

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