Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Fetal Citizens? Birthright Citizenship, Reproductive Futurism, and the "Panic" over Chinese Birth Tourism in Southern California

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Fetal Citizens? Birthright Citizenship, Reproductive Futurism, and the "Panic" over Chinese Birth Tourism in Southern California

Article excerpt

In September 2012, residents of Chino Hills, California--a wealthy suburb in San Bernardino County--reported a sewage spill from a hillside mansion. According to media reports, first by a local newspaper, then by the Los Angeles Times, and finally by various national media outlets, local residents had been suspicious of the goings-on at this mansion for a long time because people who lived there did not seem friendly and kept to themselves. With the sewage spill and the subsequent code inspection, the mansion was exposed as a "maternity hotel". The owner had subdivided the house into numerous rooms to accommodate more than 10 Chinese women at a time. He had installed a commercial-grade kitchen and hired cooks and nurses to look after the women staying there, waiting to give birth (PBS, 2013).

When code violations are found, a citation is usually issued and the investigation ends once the building is brought up to code. However, a few Chino Hills residents, upon learning about this code violation citation, picketed the mansion for what they saw as an instance of "illegal immigration". They argued that these pregnant women and their families took advantage of the U.S. Constitution to secure citizenship for their children--so-called "anchor babies"--and, eventually, their entire extended family. After forming a group called "Not in Chino Hills!" (NICH), these residents began lobbying local politicians to address this supposed immigration loophole. NICH members flooded municipal and regional council meetings in the San Gabriel Valley, voicing their concerns about welfare-cheating and burdens on taxpayers to local governments. Their civic participation prompted Los Angeles County Councilman, Don Knabe, to set up a multi-agency taskforce to look into this issue. The Los Angeles Times ran no fewer than 16 articles on the Chino Hills controversy. By July 2013, the maternity hotel in Chino Hills was abandoned.

The Chino Hills controversy appears to be yet another instance in a long history of antiimmigration organizing in the U.S., but a closer look into it reveals a reworking of race and immigration vis-a-vis changing biopolitics in the U.S. In particular, local interpretations of birth tourism as "immigration loopholes" in southern California highlight the nexus of reproduction, citizenship regimes, and racial formations--a nexus that brings historical xenophobia against especially the Chinese to the forefront (Lee, 2002). In this paper, I develop a theoretical framework that foregrounds temporality to situate and explain the contemporary formation of this nexus. The Chino Hills controversy, I argue, demonstrates how constructions of political arguments ostensibly about the present must always rely on a (re)telling of the past and a vision of the future. Said differently, temporality itself is constitutive of politics in the present, and it is precisely the collapsing of the past and the future that distinguishes the contemporary mode of biopolitics.

Following this introduction, I unfurl my argument in three sections. The first provides context on the practice of birth tourism and situates its emergence within southern California's racialized history and landscape. It also introduces my research methodology. The next two sections interweave results from critical media analysis of the Chino Hills controversies with theoretical arguments about the temporality of contemporary citizenship politics. I first focus on the past by historicizing birthright citizenship in the U.S. Tracing the racialized history of jus soli (right of the soil) in the U.S., specifically its anti-Asian origins, I argue that citizenship regimes have always relied on ideas about biopolitical reproductions of the ideal national body (Tyler, 2010). I then link this past to competing political visions of the future through a discussion of contemporary immigration politics. Using the language of reproductive futurism, I demonstrate how anti-immigration politics in particular are conducted through a temporal mode of control that relies on anxieties about the future. …

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