Live Blog: Regulating Bodies: Queerness, Immigration, and the State

Prerna Lal is giving a lecture entitled “Regulating Bodies: Queerness, Immigration, and the State.” The lecture description from the QTC website is below:

Immigration controls and restrictions are primarily an attempt to regulate sexuality through the marking of certain bodies as undeserving of citizenship. Who is deserving of citizenship? Who is undeserving? We’ll discuss and explore the lives of several (im)migrants battling for state recognition. We’ll locate how the state regulates certain bodies through restrictions on the right to contract, work, travel, procreate and love. And ultimately, we’ll examine how some immigrants are recasting their struggles away from desiring citizenship towards empowering our whole beings.

1:34 Sci 199 is crowded and the audience is waiting for the lecture to begin.

1:37 Prerna Lal is beginning her talk with a video called “Shit People Say To Undocumented Youth.” Lal also identifies as undocumented. Her parents are originally from Fiji.

1:42  Lal starts with polling the crowd about what hurtful things say to undocumented youth. Someone says “illegal.” Another says “articulate,” noting that people are surprised that he is “articulate.” Someone else throws out “where are you from?” or “where are you really from?” Someone else says “how do you say my name in your language?” and another person says “it.”

1:46  Lal says that one of the most hurtful things to call an undocumented person is “illegal,” because it dehumanizes them.

1:47  Lal addresses the issue of how immigration is a queer issue. She makes an analogy to why marriage is a queer issue – it is an important societal institution.

1:48 Lal started organizing for the DREAM Act and queer issues about five years ago, and she was the only queer issues in those groups. She went online and found other queer and undocumented people, and they started a website to promote the DREAM Act.

1:49 Stories started pouring into the website from young people from all over the world, and the website started to build an archive of stories.

1:50 Lal tried to kill herself twice, in part because her family was trying to get her to marry a man so that she could get a Green card. She decided that she needed to be “out” about who she was as a queer and undocumented person. On one side, she saw a miserable life, and the other, an open and public life, and she wondered what was dangerous about living the latter.

1:51 In 2008, she saw lots of people coming out around her and mobilizing around Prop 8 in California.

1:52 She was one of five activists who decided to sit in John McCain’s office in Arizona in 2010. Four of the five activists were queer. The cops bought them coffee and donuts, and then tried to arrest them. For an undocumented person, getting arrested brings a high likelihood of getting detained. However, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement were called, but said they “couldn’t touch” the situation.

1:55 There is a similarity between being queer and undocumented, as neither is freely chosen by the person who experiences them.

1:56 It takes 10 to 20 years for a parent to sponsor a daughter or son to immigrate to the United States.

1:57 Lal’s parents were sponsored ten years ago by her grandmother, who is a US Citizen, and they got green cards two years ago. By that point, Lal was over 21, and so she was not eligible to also get a green card. She would have to wait another 9 or 10 years to be sponsored by her parents.

2:00 The first anti-immigrant law was passed in 1875, and banned Asian women from coming to the United States. Lal explains that lawmakers did not want Asian workers to reproduce in the United States. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, suspending Chinese immigration. Lal describes anti-immigration acts as “regulating bodies” and “regulating sexuality.”

2:02 Until 1990, openly queer persons could not immigrate to the United States. Until 2010, the United States had an HIV/AIDS ban on immigration.

2:04 Even if in a same-sex marriage, a spouse cannot sponsor their undocumented spouse for documentation.

2:07 Persons seeking asylum from foreign countries who have been persecuted for being queer or trans are told by their lawyers to “act” gay.

2:10 Lal has her deportation case coming up in June. She says it takes “a lot of courage and privilege” to come and speak here. She says that she is a “desirable” immigrant – she came here when she was young and is well-educated. “Undesirable” immigrants include migrant workers, refugees, and asylum seekers.

2:12 Lal says that she doesn’t think it will take a long time for people like her to gain the right to marriage, or the right to gain documented status. She plays a video called “Nico Gonzalez Undocumented and Unafraid.” Nico is walking from San Francisco to D.C. to protest current immigration policies; it is called the Campaign for an American Dreams.

2:17 She plays another video called “”President Obama: Keep My Family. Together.” — A message from Bradford and Anthony.”

2:20 Lal opens the floor for questions.

2:20 One person asks, “How do you avoid fracturing the immigrant rights movement when the movement divides on so many lines – for example, undocumented immigrants with criminal statuses and those who do not?”

2:22 Lal says that many undocumented immigrants are deported for petty crimes like crossing during a red light or going to the DMV to register as a voter because you think you can. “People make mistakes all the time,” she says. Lal says that the immigration process should focus on the benefit that people can bring to the country; if someone has a petty crime on their record, they should stay. If they have committed murder or another felony, that should be grounds for deportation.

2:24 Someone asks Lal about her views on hate crimes. She sets her answer in the context of the Tyler Clementi case. Dharun Ravi was a green card holder. Therefore, the typical plea bargain would have been an aggravated felony for Ravi because of his status, so he gambled to take a case. Now that Ravi has been found guilty on fifteen counts, he faces both 10 years in prison and the possibility of deportation. Lal thinks that Ravi shouldn’t receive much in terms of jail time or deportation “just to prove that bias intimidation is wrong.”

2:28 When someone asks Lal about whether there are more conservative members of the immigration rights movement who oppose queer rights, she explains that people who express bigoted views “aren’t going to be bigoted forever,” and that many of the people who do so are young and haven’t been exposed to queer people.

2:30 One student asks how to respond to the statement “it’s your parent fault that you are undocumented.” Lal says that it is “a tremendous act of love” for parents to start over with a new life in a new country and new culture so that their children will have a better life.

2:32 An audience member asks about the UndocuHealth act and UndocuArt movements, and Lal comments on their importance for the undocumented movement.

2:36 Another student asks how Lal navigates competing identities of being an undocumented and queer person when trying to negotiate for legislation that addresses the rights for one identity but at the cost of rights for the other.

2:38 Lal responds that if you support a bill protecting against domestic violence against women because you are a feminist, then how can you be OK with allowing the domestic violence against women who are undocumented? “It’s a matter of making rational arguments,” she says.

2:41 Someone asks Lal how she came out to her parents. She says that she has never officially come out to her mom, although her mom “knows,” and Lal sends her pictures of her and her girlfriend every other day. When Lal was sent to a Catholic girls school and fell in love with a girl, her parents heard from co-workers about what Lal “was and wasn’t doing” at school. When Lal was taken to the United States, Lal’s father became abusive because of the situation. He dragged her to a counselor who called the cops – although Lal lied about the abuse because if her father was jailed, her ability to stay in the United States would be in jeopardy.

2:45 Lal maintains a relationship with her mother, but not her father, although she found out a few years ago that her father is queer.

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