- Fragile Families: Foster Care, Immigration, and Citizenship by Naomi Glenn-Levin Rodriguez
Conducting her extensive and transnational fieldwork in San Diego and Tijuana, young anthropologist Naomi Glenn-Levin Rodriguez succeeds in illustrating the complicated stories pertaining to foster children in her volume Fragile Families: Foster Care, Immigration, and Citizenship. She describes the relationship between foster children and multiple actors, including their foster families, social workers, the child welfare system, immigration officials, and those children's biological parents who are unable to obtain legal status. Interviewing with the different actors, Rodriguez presents readers with an internal perspective of how citizenship, deportation, and other legal issues affect adopted Hispanic children's experiences in the US and Mexico.
Beginning with the stories of the two stateless children, Alba and Tommy, Rodriguez examines the legal discourse of "worthiness" in the narratives of immigrant children's cross-border experiences in Chapter 1. Under the custody of the child welfare system in California, Alba was actually abandoned by her mother with US citizenship, and she was technically stateless because of losing her birth certificates. She was purposely and deceitfully portrayed as a pitiful victim of international human trafficking after abandonment by her relatives in the United States, and this portrayal facilitated her access to citizens' rights. Despite his similar stateless status, Tommy, who stayed in an orphanage in Tijuana, underwent an absolutely different adoption procedure and failed in gaining legal status. Because of his infection with HIV, none of his relatives were willing to falsify his legal identity. Reflecting on the divergent experiences of Alba and Tommy, Rodriguez argues that the stateless children underwent a similar classification in the procedure of adoption on the grounds of worthiness instead of humanitarianism.
In Chapter 2, Rodriguez proceeds to examine the trajectory of the "best [End Page 772] interest" discourse and its use within the procedure of adoption. Since the late nineteenth century, parenthood in American society has undergone professionalization and racialization. White middle-class people and their family values became the model for parenting. In order to decrease the occurrence of child abuse and other parenting behaviors inconsistent with the model, the child welfare system was established for institutional and official interventions with poor, immigrant, and non-white families. On behalf of state power, social workers are empowered to determine the removal of children from their "unqualified" biological parents. Social workers are more likely to remove children from Hispanic and Hispanic American parents. As seen in the case of Isabela, whose mother's deportation was translated to detainment, social workers deprived her mother's guardianship.
In the following three chapters, Rodriguez continues to discuss the projection of the "best interest" discourse on the practice of everyday life. In Chapter 3, Rodriguez examines the tension between the immigrant authorities and the child welfare system. Although their jurisdictions are overlapped in some cases, "they sometimes worked in tandem, were not designed to communicate directly with one another or to collaborate."1 Going through Lucas's and other foster children's stories, Rodriguez illustrates the tension between the child welfare officials' rationalization of the children's "best interest" and immigration officials' discretions over reunification and deportation. In Chapter 4, Rodriguez looks down on the foster system, in which Foster Family Agency social workers' and foster parents' "expertise was crafted."2 Contrary to county social workers, social workers affiliated with Foster Family Agency have adequate first-hand knowledge of foster children's real needs. Consequently, "social workers' status as 'expert' in the realm of child welfare enabled them to rely on their discretion as an important tool of their trade."3 In the final chapter of this volume, Rodriguez switches to analyze confrontations between foster children's biological parents and the child welfare system, embodied in the latter ones' intervention with intimacies between children and their biological parents.
In Rodriguez's view, foster children's tragedies could be partly blamed on social workers' overgeneralization and irresponsibility. Though Rodriguez claims that "they rely on their discretion, their intuition, and their interpretation of legal code and agency policy," social...