Eithne Luibheid. Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. xxvii + 253 pp. $54.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8166-3804-8; $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8166-3803-1.
Reviewed by Paola Gemme (Department of English, Arkansas Tech University)
Published on H-Amstdy (August, 2003)
Rethinking Immigration Control
Rethinking Immigration Control
Eithne Luibheid has written an important book. Entry Denied is the first study of how the U.S. immigration control system regulated the admission of foreign women based on their sexuality and, in the process, drew upon and reinforced systems of sexual regulation aimed at the population already within national borders. Specifically, while wives were admitted, unwed pregnant women and women suspected of being prostitutes or lesbians were excluded. Through this process of selective admission, Luibheid concludes, immigration control has participated in the institution of patriarchal heterosexuality as the nation's official gender and sexual norm. In fact, she argues, it still does. Though the ban on gays and lesbians was repealed in 1990, homosexuals, unlike heterosexuals, still cannot apply for permanent residency based on their intimate relationship with a U.S. citizen.
Luibheid demonstrates her thesis that "sexual regulation at the border articulates sexual regulation within the nation" (p. xxi) by weaving a sweeping historical narrative with detailed case studies. Her first chapter is an overview of how immigration laws since the late-nineteenth century regulated women's sexuality, from the Page Law of 1875, which prohibited the entry of Asian prostitutes, to the implementation of compulsory HIV testing and exclusion of HIV-positive petitioners for residency in 1987. The chapters that follow explore four aspects of the sexual regulation of immigrant women: the efforts in the 1870s to identify and exclude Chinese prostitutes, who were perceived as a threat to the white family; the ban in the 1920s on the importation of Japanese brides, whose fertility was constructed as evidence of Japan's plot to conquer the United States, and which illustrates the racial limits of the heteropatriarchal imperative; the exclusion of lesbians, which Luibheid explores through the 1960 case of Sara Harb Quiroz, a Mexican resident of the United States who was repatriated because of her alleged homosexuality; and, finally, the role of rape, whether suffered by immigrant women in their country of origin and the grounds of their request for asylum or perpetuated by Border Patrol agents against undocumented immigrants, in "reinscribing exclusionary nationalism" (p. 103). In this last chapter, in my view the strongest in a series of brilliant essays, the author argues that these very different responses to the rape of foreign women have similar functions. The narratives of violence elicited from the women seeking asylum help to create an image of the United States as enlightened and the women's own country as tyrannical, therefore reinforcing notions of Western superiority; while the ineffectively prosecuted rapes by federal agents against immigrant women, who were then often released in the United States rather than deported, are a strategy to reinscribe gender and ethno-racial hierarchies within the nation.
There is much to commend in Entry Denied. To start with, it avoids the colonialist pitfalls of scholarship that labels itself transnational because it studies the interaction of the treatment of foreign and domestic others, yet retains an exclusive focus on the United States. Instead, Luibheid analyzes the effects of immigration laws on the sexual hierarchies of other countries as well. For instance, she describes the 1908 Gentlemen's Agreement between the United States and Japan, which allowed for the importation of picture brides from Japan, as reinforcing patriarchal norms in Japan as well as in the United States, since Japanese women's geographical mobility became dependent upon the strictures of marriage in ways it had not been before. Here, as well as when she resists labeling Sara Harb Quiroz a lesbian, because the definition of female homosexuality in Mexico differs from that in the United States, Luidheid's work is a model for a truly globalized American Studies practice which does not subordinate the foreign to the domestic.
Nor does Luibheid subordinate immigrant women's voices to the collection of information about them in the INS case files that constitute much of her primary sources. Although she believes a history of immigrant women's agency still has to be written, their voices are conspicuously present in this book. So are their acts of defiance against the sexual policing of the border: some of the picture brides of the 1920s agreed to marriage to fulfill their desire to travel, thereby subverting patriarchal gender norms in Japan and the United States alike; until 1990, lesbians "dolled up" before passing custom to eschew the ban on homosexuals. In fact, although her theoretical framework is Foucaultian, Luibheid differs from Foucault in that she conceptualizes the possibility of resistance to the immigration control apparatus. It is this reliance on Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, no matter how appropriate to examine the regimes of inspections to which immigrant women are subjected, that I find at times to interfere with the analysis instead of facilitating it. This is especially true of the chapter on sexual monitoring at the border with Mexico, where Luidheid's decision to identify Foucault's five procedures in the Quiroz case, in order to construct confessions of sexual deviancy as scientific, produces the only ten obscure pages in a book that distinguishes itself for its clarity.
In sum, Entry Denied is a book that American Studies practitioners in several areas should read. Immigration scholars should become familiar with it because it inserts sexuality in immigration scholarship and ethnic studies specialists because of its attention to how criteria of national racial purity have historically counterbalanced the heteropatriarchal standard of immigration policies. Sexuality studies experts should read it because it brings to the fore the female migrant queer subject in a field that has focused on the male white homosexual. All of us will benefit from the book because it successfully articulates the connection between the policies towards foreign others and national social order.
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Paola Gemme. Review of Luibheid, Eithne, Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border.
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Copyright © 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.