- Pregnant on Arrival: Making the Illegal Immigrant by Eithne Luibhéid
Eithne Luibhéid’s insightful second book, Pregnant on Arrival: Making the Illegal Immigrant, provides a crucial contribution to queer migration scholarship. Through analyses of Ireland’s shifting attempts to control migration between 1997 and 2004, Luibhéid powerfully demonstrates how nation-states’ immigration controls produce “illegal” subjects in ways that “reaffirm or remake dominant nationalist sexual norms … while also subjecting migrants and citizens to normalizing regimes of power” (5). Lubhéid makes an important and unique intervention into a body of work that rejects legal status as an inherent quality of migrants and instead establishes the contingent nature of the category illegal. By applying a queer theoretical lens that centers sexuality—as it intersects with race, gender, and class—as an essential site through which nation-states construct “illegal immigrants,” Luibhéid makes evident the productive intersection between migration controls and sexual norms. In the process, she both indicates the pressing need for, and crucially contributes to, a dialogue between queer theory and migration scholarship.
An important figure on which Luibhéid’s analysis focuses is that of the pregnant migrant. In national debates over immigration in Ireland, “childbearing emerged as a pivotal site of struggle between migrants and the state over whether they would acquire more durable legal status [or] become redesignated as illegal and deportable” (8). As she explains, this was in large part due to the fact that, until 2003, migrants could become legal residents by giving birth to a child in Ireland, which at the time granted birthright citizenship and acknowledged Irish-citizen children’s entitlement to the presence of their parents (chapter 1). Through a critical reading of state discourse around migration, the first chapter thus explicates how narratives of pregnant migrants who “supposedly ‘abused’ the system by claiming asylum, then birthing children and claiming residency on that basis” (41) relied on the intersection of women’s reproductive sexuality and migration in order to construct them as actually illegal. Crucial to the process of framing pregnant migrants as illegal was the reconfiguration of normative heterosexuality—on which, as Luibhéid demonstrates, the Irish nation-state was constructed—along racialized lines that justified sexuality as a technology of migration control (52). However, the state’s was not the only discourse about pregnant migrants that existed: in chapter 2, drawing on both media and interviews she conducted, Luibhéid looks at counter-narratives to those of the “illegal” pregnant migrant. In doing so, she highlights the belief among interviewees that, given the complexity of Ireland’s migration regime, childbearing was simply a way for migrants to negotiate possibility within a nontransparent, exclusionary Irish immigration system. Pregnant migrants [End Page 203] and the discourses that construct them are thus powerful examples Luibhéid uses to highlight the importance of sexuality as a site through which migration controls are exerted.
Another of the many strengths of Pregnant on Arrival is its linkage of racialized discourses of sexuality and legal status to their material effects on migrants’ lives. In chapter 3, Luibhéid looks at the category asylum-seeker and the system of direct provision, which provides asylum-seekers with lodging, food, and healthcare while they wait for decisions on their asylum claims (87). Importantly, she builds here on scholarship on neoliberal welfare systems, which suggests that such systems seek to produce responsible capitalist subjects. Luibhéid argues that, by minimally sustaining asylum-seekers’ lives, while controlling all aspects of those lives, the system of direct provision produces incapacitated subjects that are more easily rendered illegal and thus deportable, emphasizing the very real material violence that results from legal categorizations. She extends her analysis of the violence done to migrants through deportation in chapter 4, which looks at Ireland’s constitutional commitment to “defend and vindicate … the right to life of the unborn” (125) through the lens of two contradictory court cases. Luibhéid shows, ultimately, that the state positions Irish-citizen women as reproducers of Ireland by...