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Reviewed by:
  • Migrant Crossings: Witnessing Human Trafficking in the U.S. by Annie Isabel Fukushima
  • Verjine Adanalian (bio)
Annie Isabel Fukushima, Migrant Crossings: Witnessing Human Trafficking in the U.S. (Stanford University Press, 2019) ISBN 978–1–5036–0949–5, 261 pages.

In Migrant Crossings, as the title might suggest, Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima sets the reader out to experience multiple crossings. In the literal sense, this work crosses through an impressive range of disciplines, including women's and feminist studies, critical race and ethnic studies, sexuality studies, labor studies, legal studies, and sociology.1 In the figurative sense, Fukushima has the reader cross from this world into the spooky, abstract world through her "unsettled witnessing" of "ghosts" to her discussions of the "living dead."2 By focusing on Asians and Latinx in the United States, Fukushima asks the reader to contemplate how migrants, and specifically victims of human trafficking, "cross into visibility legally, through frames of citizenship, and through narratives of victimhood."3

Fukushima's work is a significant contribution, especially as migration continues to be a hotly debated political and social issue—not only in the United States but worldwide. How immigrants are treated in the twenty-first century is inextricably tied to narratives of migrants as economic, social, and political threats to the nation-state. In response, Fukushima provides real cases to highlight the impact of such narratives on the lives of migrants who experience violence—a violence some would call human trafficking.4 Human trafficking is "a story that the public is called to witness"5 through a broad range of mediums.6 There are different kinds of witnesses7 who play an [End Page 715] active role in whether or not a migrant's victimization is ever seen. According to Fukushima, "[t]he actions of the witness reproduce dominant ideologies about 'perfect victimhood,' citizenship, and legality, ideologies that become codified and reified in the courtroom, by social services, and in everyday interactions with trafficking subjects."8

In Chapter One, titled "An American Haunting: Witnessing Human Trafficking and Ghostly Exclusions," Fukushima presents the "ghost case" as the first lead example to discuss what she calls "unsettled witnessing."9 In the ghost case, Chinese-American migrants were swindled out of their money and jewelry by a group of Chinese immigrants. When prosecuted for the crimes, the defense attorneys argued that the immigrants were trafficked to facilitate the scam and that the crimes were committed out of necessity.10 Through this defense, the immigrants transformed from "criminal" to "alleged victim of human trafficking"11—but the criminal charges ultimately trumped the alleged victimization. The ghost case became the human trafficking case that never was. In response, Fukushima questioned what kind of subjectivities are needed for people to be legible as trafficking subjects—to no longer be "ghosts" but rather migrants with complex personhoods "beyond the narratives that construct them as other, victim/criminal, and a subject to be pitied."12 In order to see and examine these ghosts, Fukushima calls for unsettled witnessing, which is "a commitment to witnessing without being settled with what is constituted as legible—whether in the legal system, in policy, in the media, or in everyday social relations."13

The practice of unsettled witnessing seems to require a pushback on the social constructs that have been passed down from generation to generation—particularly the legacies of colonialism, racism, sexism, and more—that shape witnessing human trafficking in the United States. Fukushima best comments on these legacies in Chapter Two, titled "Legal Control of Migrant Crossings: Citizenship, Labor, and Racialized Sexualities." Here, she provides a complex genealogy of the legal events and history that have shaped the community norms of understanding of "slavery, labor, citizenship, gender, and sexuality, to understand human trafficking not as a singular phenomenon but rather as imbricated in multiple systems."14

Fukushima's work should be celebrated for the wealth of knowledge and information it has managed to contain in less than 300 pages. Chapters Two through Five should arguably be read by any person who is engaging in anti-trafficking work to better understand, among many factors, the roots of modern human trafficking laws, the complexity of "perfect victimhood...


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pp. 715-717
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