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.



Transnational Marriage among Asians

ImageAbout image:
Through intermediary companies, men are able to “order” women as their brides. Its history can be traced for 19th century, but this kind of “system” still exists. Commodification of women can be greatly related to the increasing number of transnational marriages.

Globalization makes it easier for people to cross the borders. The increasing number of international couples can be seen as a good aspect of the global world. However, it should not be considered just as a naturally occurring phenomenon, but they are often systemically structured, especially in the case of Asia. There are increasing numbers of transnational couples among Asians, and most of cases, foreign women get married to men of the destination countries. It can be expected that both countries of men and brides have some domestic and personal situations, and in order to improve these problems, transnational marriage may be one of the solutions. These marriages are conducted by the local governments and the private businesses “legally”, or by illegal companies, which we call is human trafficking.

Feminization of migration

There are some ways for female migrants to get married and settle in the destination countries, excluding the cases that both man and women hoped to get married each other.

1) Marriage migration: unbalanced female-male ratio, and a lack of brides in rural farming regions can be the triggers for hosting countries.

2) Migration as workers → later female immigrants get married in order to stay legally. : economic problems of women in home countries, as well as needs for the cheaper labor force in the destination countries may be the trigger.

As a result, these female migrants will face various problems, including language barriers and legal status. In order to avoid human trafficking and for the destination countries’ security or benefits, it is often said that the governments, especially those of host countries, should restrict these activities, which can eventually lead to the sex trade. Each government has some regulations that do not allow every migrant to stay in the country or to be a citizen. In some cases, migrants are required to have some language proficiency, economic status, professions, or need to be married to a local citizen. However, these laws also do not help female immigrants, and in addition, these do not address the core problem of the situation.


Through the paper, I may not be able to address international marriages led by the human trafficking. Instead, I will focus on transnational marriages, which seem legal, but actually affect females negatively. I would like to address following questions in the paper.

1) What are domestic reasons of increasing number of international couples in Asia? : both country of men and that of women.

2) What are specific difficulties that migrant women may face? (Including language, health care, job opportunity, or ethnic/gendered discrimination)

3) What are some solutions, which can be addressed inside each country to resolve transnational consequences? (It seems that both hosting and sending counties of female migrants are using them to solve their “domestic” problems. Is it possible to improve the situations of those females by addressing each problem inside the nation, rather than seeking broader solutions from the beginning? )

Secondary source:

Piper, Nicola. Wife or Worker? Worker or Wife? Marriage and Cross-Border Migration in Contemporary Japan.

Transnational Marriage as Sex Trade

①   農村の嫁不足を背景に「外国人花嫁ビジネス」 JAPAN and ASIA

(MONEYzine, May 23, 2010, Article)

The lack of brides in farming communities ⇒ the foreign brides business : Link


  1. Transnational marriages were once conducted by the local government as a resolution for the under-population in the farming communities. However, vicious or illegal private businesses for matchmaking now need to be discussed in terms of human trafficking.
  2. Economic developments among Asian countries lead further consequences of human trafficking in the name of the foreign brides business. This issue should be addressed internationally.


  1. The foreign brides business focused on one country causes another lack of brides in other regions, which keep generating negative consequences.
  2. The increasing rates of transnational couples sound a good aspect of the globalization, but it need to be noted that from which countries and why they got married in order to avoid generalization of those couples.
  3. Farming communities are more likely to suffer the lack of brides and the characteristics of transnational couples in cities and in farming villages may be very different.  



②ザ・国際結婚 JAPAN

The International Marriage

(HP: matching site ): Link

About HP

  • For Japanese men
  • Information about women from China, the Philippines, Thai, Laos, Myanmar
  • Membership system
  • Contents include …
  1. About International marriage → Encouraging Japanese men to get married foreign women.
  2. Site Links (International marriage between Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Russian and U.S. people)
  3. Community → Exchange information among members.
  4. About marriage process and law.
  5. History of International marriage in Japan.


  1. Most likely to be targeting at Japanese “men.”
  2. Advertising as if International marriage is a good option and legally encouraged.
  3. Advertising only good aspects. : A Web Resource for Combating Human Trafficking (HP) : Link


  1. In terms of Japan, China, and South Korea, all of countries are sources, transits, and destinations of human trafficking, and all of them have internal problems regarding human trafficking as well.
  2. The governments tend to ignore/ pretend not to notice issues related to human trafficking and have made limited efforts to improve the situations.


  1. Too complicated structures of human trafficking.
  2. Internal human trafficking is more likely not to be realized.
  3. Need to address the attitudes/ policies of the governments.


The Burmese brides trafficked into China to marry total strangers 

(Article: Metro News: Feb. 11, 2013): Link 


  1. Many young Burmese women have been trafficked and forced to marry men who they never met. In many cases, these women were told that they can get jobs so that they can send money to their families.
  2. Since the one child policy in China produces a significant imbalance between female and male populations, Chinese men, especially in rural areas, have a difficult time to find brides.
  3. Some of Chinese men have disabilities and cannot get married to Chinese women, but they still need to have children. Burmese women are sold also to those men and forced to live in very bad conditions.


  1. Some Chinese men cannot married to Chinese women → Buy brides from other countries: Commodification of women.
  2. Women are more likely to be trafficked, but also other women involve in trafficking as traffickers.
  3. One policy in one country affect over the country, and rural areas tend to get affected negatively. As their resolutions, vicious and illegal business may not end. It should be considered that there are huge gaps of accessibility, depending where (region, class, career?) they live, to the benefit from the governmental policy.

My Questions

  1. Some people say the increasing numbers of Transnational marriages is a good aspect of Globalization. However, at the same time, Transnational marriage can be sex trade/ human trafficking?
  2. How complicated the situations are? (Ex: women sell women, one country is a source, transit, and destination .) How the governmental policies affect the situations and what the governments fail to address?
  3. What we should notice? (Ex: situation, structure, consequences to their children, status of brides in new countries.)