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Fictive Kinship

Family Reunification and the Meaning of Race and Nation in American Migration

Catherine Lee

Publication Year: 2013

Today, roughly 70 percent of all visas for legal immigration are reserved for family members of permanent residents or American citizens. Family reunification – policies that seek to preserve family unity during or following migration – is a central pillar of current immigration law, but it has existed in some form in American statutes since at least the mid-nineteenth century. In Fictive Kinship, sociologist Catherine Lee delves into the fascinating history of family reunification to examine how and why our conceptions of family have shaped immigration, the meaning of race, and the way we see ourselves as a country. Drawing from a rich set of archival sources, Fictive Kinship shows that even the most draconian anti-immigrant laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, contained provisions for family unity, albeit for a limited class of immigrants. Arguments for uniting families separated by World War II and the Korean War also shaped immigration debates and the policies that led to the landmark 1965 Immigration Act. Lee argues that debating the contours of family offers a ready set of symbols and meanings to frame national identity and to define who counts as “one of us.” Talk about family, however, does not inevitably lead to more liberal immigration policies. Welfare reform in the 1990s, for example, placed limits on benefits for immigrant families, and recent debates over the children of undocumented immigrants fanned petitions to rescind birthright citizenship. Fictive Kinship shows that the centrality of family unity in the immigration discourse often limits the discussion about the goals, functions and roles of immigration and prevents a broader definition of American identity.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

About the Author

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pp. xi-xii

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Note on Terminology

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pp. xvii-xii

I am quite mindful of the significance and role of language in shaping debate and signifying meaning in political discourse, particularly on topics as heated as immigration. Immigrant activists have criticized the use of terms such as “illegal alien,” “illegal immigrant,” and “illegal immigration” as dehumanizing and racist. Some activists have advocated the use of “undocumented” in place of “illegal.” I am sensitive to these concerns...

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pp. xiii-xviii

As an immigrant and child of immigrants in American society, I have long experienced the far-reaching impact of U.S. immigration laws and policies. As a young child, I shared my parents’ sadness in our family’s separation while we waited to be reunited in our new homeland. I could not understand the political or social implications of immigration...

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Chapter 1: Introduction: “Family Reunification Has Been the Cornerstone of Our Immigration Policy”

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pp. 1-18

In 1903, Rihei Onishi, an immigrant from Japan, began a rice farm in Pierce, Texas. He achieved enough economic success that by 1906 several dozen men from Japan had joined him in Texas, leasing land from him. In 1909, when Onishi went to Japan for a visit, six of his tenant farmers asked him to bring their fiancées and wives back to the United States...

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Chapter 2: “The Fabric of Our Civilization as We Know It”: Family in Research and Policy

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pp. 19-48

On the floor of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1924, Rep. Victor Berger from Wisconsin, the first Socialist Party member elected to the House, offered an amendment to a bill that would provide non-quota status to spouses, minor children, and parents of immigrant residents who stated their intention to become citizens. He boldly...

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Chapter 3: “I Have Kept My Blood Pure”: Gender Propriety, Class Privilege, and Racial Purity in Family Reunification During the Exclusion Era

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pp. 49-73

On September 1, 1916, Quok Shee, age twenty, arrived on Angel Island from Hong Kong. She accompanied Chew Hoy Quong, a fifty-fiveyear- old Chinese immigrant living in San Francisco who had originally landed in the United States in 1881. Chew Hoy Quong was a partner in a business that sold herbs and medicines and as such was a merchant who...

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Chapter 4: “Reason of Elemental Humanity”: The Urgency of Uniting Families in the Postwar Era on the Road to Immigration Reform

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pp. 74-98

On October 11, 1945, nearly one thousand British women from all parts of Great Britain lined up outside Caxton Hall in London, many with babies in their arms, for a meeting organized by the Married Women’s Association. The women had earlier planned to march with some ten thousand participants before the police canceled the scheduled event; their...

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Chapter 5: “Our Nation’s Efforts to Protect Families Has Fallen Far Short”: Pluralist Ideals and Vulnerable Families

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pp. 99-119

In a letter dated June 11, 1984, and addressed to Rep. Peter Rodino (DNJ), chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Nationality, regarding a bill proposing to alter family reunification provisions, Hyman Bookbinder of the American Jewish Committee reminded the congressman: “America’s commitment to fair and humane entry preferences for...

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Chapter 6: Conclusion: “What Basis Do We Use to Decide Who Gets to Come?”

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pp. 120-126

In 2007, a year after hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters demonstrated in Los Angeles and elsewhere to demand the liberalization of U.S. immigration laws, members of the Senate considered a proposal, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA), to do just that. The bill had three critical features: a pathway to citizenship for the...

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Appendix: Data and Methods

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pp. 127-128

This book examines the centrality of meanings of family and family reunification to American immigration policy and traces how ideas about family, race, and nation have permeated the development of immigration policy. Because I am concerned with how ideas influence policy, I focus on the construction and deployment of meaning by the actors who...


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pp. 129-152


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pp. 153-172


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pp. 173-182

E-ISBN-13: 9781610448123
E-ISBN-10: 161044812X

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1