In the 1950s, the world famous American-born entertainer Josephine Baker, who lived in France, toured the US. She was refused in 36 hotels in New York because she was black.
Back in France, Baker adopted twelve children from 10 different countries in order to prove to the world that people of all ‘races’ and religions could live together. She organised tours through the castle where she lived with her ‘rainbow tribe’ and made the children sing and dance. In the 1920s and 1930s the popular novelist Pearl S. Buck adopted seven children, four of whom were labelled ‘mixed-race’. By doing so she flaunted American restrictions on mixed-race adoptions. In the 1950s, Buck said she did so because she wanted to show that families formed by love – devoid of prejudices based on race, religion, nation, and blood – were expressions of democracy that could counteract communist charges that America’s global defence of freedom was deeply hypocritical.
The adoptions by Baker and Buck were political statements that illustrate that intercountry adoptions were frequently about much more than saving a child, as many people who defended adoptions claim. My Identities article, ‘Parenting, citizenship and belonging in Dutch adoption debates 1900-1995’, explains why debates on this issue continued, without ever reaching a conclusion. Celebrities (including Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) followed in the footsteps of Baker and Buck. Non-celebrities copied behaviour and arguments. Adopters tried to show that children and adults not connected by blood ties could form a family, and that single parent adoptions or adoption by same sex couples could work. Critics pointed to child kidnappings, trafficking, ‘baby farms’ and a profit-driven industry based on global inequality. Adoption was not a solution to poverty, nor in the best interest of the child, in their view.
Adoption was and is a popular subject in women’s magazines and (children’s) literature, starting with the biblical story of Moses in his basket. It features in large number of TV sitcoms (e.g. Modern Family, Sex and the City), movies and books (Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Superman). Ancestry.com offers DNA tests to find ‘your liberator granddad’, there are numerous TV shows about searching birth parents, and heritage tours to birth countries are popular.
Overall, the public and media are fascinated by adoption stories, while the issue torments authorities. This has been the case for over a century. My Identities article tackles this question of continuity by placing intercountry adoption within the context of migration, to which it legally and administratively belongs. This is an uncommon approach. By placing it in the migration context, and addressing it from a historical and comparative perspective, the interaction between discourses, policies and practices are analysed, and the continuity explained.
Making children adoptable is a discursive as well as a legal process. My article bridges the divide between the private sphere (the intimacy of the family) and public sphere (of policies and treaties), and pays systematic attention to how colonialism, persistent global inequality, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion were important to the debates about belonging, failure, saviour and good/bad parenting. Children are made adoptable by emphasising that their parents, family, community and country of birth have failed them. A Janus-faced construction – saving the child, condemning its origin – explains the continued challenges for policy making.
Blog post by Marlou Schrover, Leiden University, The Netherlands
Read the full article: Schrover, Marlou. Parenting, citizenship and belonging in Dutch adoption debates 1900-1995. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1757252
In France and Belgium, residence permits issued to migrants from the global south married to French or Belgian citizens have consistently risen since the mid-1990s. These unions – depicted as a legal loophole that give migrants cover to secure residency, sometimes by taking advantage of unsuspecting citizens, and as fuel for ‘ethnic separatism’ when migrants marry citizens of migration background – have been targeted by law reforms in the 2000s designed to discourage them and hurdle consequent applications for temporary and permanent residence, and citizenship acquisitions.
My Identities article, ‘Family rights-claiming as act of citizenship: an intersectional perspective on the performance of intimate citizenship’, examines the enforcement of such provisions and its climate from the standpoint of French and Belgian citizens who want to marry or are already married to non-European migrants. Precisely, it draws on the experiences of national partners who, seeking legal help from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), participate in their advocacy actions. Some partners wish to overcome minute, intrusive and discretionary migration controls and administrative blockages for marrying or applying for residence, while others seek the annulment of their marriage claiming to have been cheated by their migrant partners. Although diametrically opposed, the intimate and administrative experiences of these partners erode the boundaries between their intimacy and citizenship.
I encountered such experiences while observing four NGOs with contrasting approaches to marriage migration. Two NGOs concerned with the administrative mistreatment of partners during marriage and migration formalities demand full respect of private and family rights. Another NGO, concerned with migratory abuse towards national partners, demand more state intervention to protect citizens. Interestingly, an NGO for each type exists both in Belgium and France. In fact, in both countries, bureaucratic practices and public discourses regarding mixed-immigration status unions have overlapping similarities, even though Belgian policies are more restrictive than French policies (e.g. Belgium requires its citizens to comply with the same conditions for migrants for family reunification – namely strict income, housing and social protection over five years – for their migrant spouse to obtain and maintain a residence permit).
In choosing to work with a particular NGO, national partners become aware of their own and/or their couple’s rights. NGOs give voice to their divergent grievances: in one case, to its own state’s unattended scrutiny and, in the other, about state lack of protection. The reformulation of personal and administrative injustice into rights claims led these partners to assert that they fully deserve the rights of citizenship on the basis of or despite their affective choice.
Thanks to these partners’ narratives, I show that citizenship is not just a matter of status and membership, but a practice rooted in individuals’ intimate and private experiences. To put this simply, citizenship is more what individuals do than what individuals have. I demonstrate how the national partners’ experiences of citizenship vary according to their gender and race. White women and partners with migration backgrounds, whether men or women, experience a deterioration of their supposed universal citizenship by the state apparatus. Nationals from migration backgrounds felt like second-class citizens suspected to an open migratory chain; their origin and their affective choice discredit their status and voice. When autochthonous white women are sometimes regarded as either naïve victims or criminals for choosing a black or Arab partner over, for instance, a white American or British partner, they are buried into the racial and social stigma that already affect their partners. Suspected of sham marriages or victims of migratory scam, their state asks them to repent for their inappropriate choice that puts in danger the whiteness of the nation.
Blog post by Laura Odasso, Collège de France, France
Read the full article: Odasso, Laura. Family rights-claiming as act of citizenship: an intersectional perspective on the performance of intimate citizenship. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1723309
Interviewer: ‘What do you think it means to be British?’
Miriam: ‘It is a passport. To be British now, I’m sorry to say this, but it is a passport. That is it. That is what being British means to me… I have lost faith in the country which I used to call home. I have lost faith, I have lost trust. Every single bit of pride that I had to be calling myself a British citizen has almost gone out of the window. They have basically sucked every single bit of love for the UK out of me.’
Miriam’s husband had been in the UK from his teens but was recently forcibly removed from the country, after a traumatic period incarcerated in immigration detention. The authorities have advised Miriam that she should choose between staying in the UK alone or leave to be with him. She’s choosing the latter:
‘I just said stuff it, if England don’t want me to live here, I will live in any country in the world with him, and that is it.’
I interviewed Miriam in her almost empty flat, days before she left the UK. We talked amongst boxes as she packed her few remaining possessions. Miriam, a white British-born citizen, described the UK as ‘the country that I did love so much’. But her identity, national pride, civic relationship and understandings of citizenship had been dramatically reconfigured as a result of the authorities’ treatment of her foreign husband and the indifference shown to her relationship choices and citizenship rights.
Mixed-immigration status families
The recently published Identities article, ‘My passport is just my way out of here’. Mixed-immigration status families, immigration enforcement and the citizenship implications', examines the impact of immigration enforcement on mixed-immigration status families in the UK. It draws on interviews conducted in 2015–2016 with the British female partners of ‘deportable’ migrant men.
The interviews show that the families of precarious migrants are also harmed by immigration policies, even if they are not themselves subject to immigration controls. They lose money and jobs, develop mental and physical health problems, and feel powerless and unable to envisage a future. Children experience damage to their wellbeing, behaviour and school attainment. Citizens describe this harm as extreme and state-sponsored, experiencing it as betrayal and rejection.
‘It is like your heart has been ripped out of your chest and thrown on the ﬂoor and stamped on by the British Government’.
Citizenship and belonging
Their partners’ (often lengthy, expensive and antagonistic) immigration battles also undermine citizens’ own sense of security and belonging in the UK. They feel unimportant to, and overlooked by, their government. Most of the women spoke of high levels of state intrusion, as well as being routinely disbelieved, judged and sometimes humiliated by immigration officials. People’s feelings of rights and security are especially shaken by being advised to leave the country.
The effect is an undermining of people’s trust in the state and feelings of estrangement from their citizenship. Interviewees spoke of being unable to ‘practice my citizenship’ and no longer ‘proud’ of being British.
‘I’ve lost all faith in my government, how they treat us. How can my government do this to me?’
Hierarchies of citizenship
These women’s experiences illustrate how immigration controls not only discipline migrants, but also the citizens close to them. And, as the Identities article argues, it does so in ways that expose the internal hierarchies and conditionalities of citizenship.
Equality may be central to the theory of citizenship, but in practice belonging and membership are contested and ambiguous. It remains the case that Britons’ ability to exercise their citizenship rights, such as marry and live with the person of their choice, is gendered, classed and racialised. As Miriam asks, ‘Why is my government doing this to me? Because I’m poor?’
Blog post by Melanie Griffiths, University of Birmingham, UK
Read the full article: Griffiths, Melanie. My passport is just my way out of here’. Mixed-immigration status families, immigration enforcement and the citizenship implications. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1625568
In recent years border walls have been built in different parts of the world in order to stop irregular migration. However, barriers for migrants are not only constructed physically but also discursively in political discourses. It is known that restrictive policies in Europe are accompanied by exclusionary discourses on national citizenship for immigrants, depicting them as either ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’.
Empirical studies have demonstrated that the representation of immigrants and their citizenship in policies plays an important role in how these policies are received and acted upon, both by the host community and the immigrants themselves (da Lomba 2010; Stewart and Mulvey 2014). As such, studying political discourses might contribute to the understanding of the socioeconomic and political incorporation of immigrants into the host community.
In the study presented in the Identities article, 'The labyrinth towards citizenship: contradictions in the framing and categorization of immigrants in immigration and integration policies', my co-author and I aimed to fully grasp how immigrants were framed in immigration policies in Belgium. Although previous studies have treated immigration and integration policies as distinct fields, we argue that a combined analysis of these two policy domains is needed in order to comprehend the full complexity of immigration policy. By mapping the different representations of immigrants in the wider policy field, we found that this is much more complex than the generally adopted contrast between deserving and undeserving suggest.
This map of discursive policy representations does not reflect a linear route towards citizenship, but instead a labyrinth filled with turns and barriers, as exemplified by the discursive categorisations and contradictions with which migrants are confronted. More concretely, within policy discourses a difference is made between various categories of newly arrived migrants, with the path for ‘criminal’ and ‘profiteer’ migrants proving to be a dead end (i.e. return). Immigrants who are initially labelled as ‘victims’ can later turn into ‘criminals’ or ‘profiteers’. If these immigrants do not subsequently return to their home countries, they are labelled as ‘unauthorised’ immigrants or ‘illegals’.
In the integration-policy discourse, this places them within a grey area, in which they are not recognised as citizens, even though they participate in society. Immigrants who are recognised as refugees arrive in the ‘probationary-citizenship’ stage, which can ultimately lead to formal citizenship when proving to be ‘good’ citizens through cultural assimilation and socioeconomic participation. Accordingly, it is theoretically possible for them to reach the exit of the labyrinth. However, it seems almost impossible for them to reach the status of ‘full citizen’, given the manner in which the citizenship of Belgian people of colour is constantly questioned (i.e. the ‘virtual-citizenship’ stage) and the participation of undocumented immigrants is not recognised. Only white Belgians are regarded as ‘full citizens’.
In addition, we unravel four contradictions characteristic of this labyrinth. First, human rights are used as an instrument of both inclusion and exclusion in the hands of national governments. Second, the citizenship of Belgian people of colour is persistently virtualised, thus serving as a reference for problematising the prospective citizenship of newly arriving immigrants. Third, the combined analysis of the policy domains of immigration and integration reveals how immigrants must be simultaneously powerless and active agents, in addition to being able to use both conditions strategically. Finally, unauthorised immigrants are also discursively positioned within a grey zone between formal exclusion and informal inclusion, with the latter remaining unrecognised by the state. These discursive contradictions have the potential to become actual barriers in the labyrinth towards citizenship.
The discursive labyrinth legitimises a wide range of policies and measures of inclusion and exclusion of immigrants. Given the persistent problematisation of the citizenship status of people of colour, we claim that this labyrinth might have no end.
da Lomba, S. 2010. Legal status and refugee integration: a UK perspective. Journal of Refugee Studies 23: 415-436.
Stewart, E. & G. Mulvey. 2014. Seeking safety beyond refuge: the impact of immigration and citizenship policy upon refugees in the UK. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 40: 1023-1039.
Blog post by Rachel Waerniers, Ghent University, Belgium
Read the full article: Waerniers, Rachel & Hustinx, Lesley. The labyrinth towards citizenship: contradictions in the framing and categorization of immigrants in immigration and integration policies. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1590025