Reconstructing Immigrant Women: Coercion, Criminalization, & Commerce

Oct 22, 2015 | - Oct 22, 2015 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

691 Barrows Hall

Reconstructing Immigrant Women: Coercion, Criminalization, Commerce
Producing Export-Grade Labor for the Global Economy: Indonesia’s Women Migrant Domestics at the Point of Production
Andy Scott Chang, Sociology

While a burgeoning body of migration literature has examined the subordination of women migrant domestic workers, who are increasingly relied upon to ameliorate the “care deficit” in industrialized countries, less attention has been paid to the ways in which export-grade labor is consciously manufactured in sending countries to satisfy host state needs. My talk will focus on the Indonesian state’s historically bifurcated strategy of managing the export of women domestics to the newly affluent economies of the Middle East and East Asia while overlooking the undocumented migration of men to neighboring Malaysia. Although the Indonesian government has, in recent years, taken a more proactive stance in regulating male outmigration, it has long collaborated with private human resources companies to discipline women domestics for the benefit of foreign employers and governments by subjecting the former to months of mental and occupational training prior to overseas departure, culminating in the Professional Competence Examination (Ujian Kompetensi). Based on four months of ethnographic observation at two licensed private job training centers and two government-organized orientations for contract migrants in East Java, Indonesia, my research will elucidate the institutional mechanisms by which Indonesian migrant domestics’ malleability is actively produced. By analyzing the control and training of care workers in sending communities, I will demonstrate why it is inadequate to focus solely on the role of host state organizations in racializing migrant domestics of a certain nationality as “unintelligent, industrious, and subservient.” And by analyzing public-private partnership in migration management as practiced by a rising labor-exporting country like Indonesia, I will provide a tentative explanation as to why Indonesian women migrants, who number more than two million, have now dominated the domestic care services markets of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia, and are a major presence in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and other Middle Eastern countries.

Legal Innocence and Ethnographic Culpability: Asian American Feminist Critique of Immigration Law as Criminal Enforcement
Lee Ann S. Wang, School of Law

In the early 2000s, a series of new immigration visas gave legal meaning to the formation of state protection by providing temporary legal status to undocumented immigrant women who were survivors of gender and sexual violence. By design however, these visas were available only if applicants agreed to “cooperate” in partnerships that assisted the betterment of law enforcement. My talk will discuss the relationship between legal protection and legal punishment, focusing on the role immigration has played in the larger history of troubled laws designed to rescue the subject of the feminine through increased policing and the expansion of institutions of criminalization. In particular, the legal discourse of “cooperation” that abstracts coercion from the letter of law and the lived conditions of immigrant women’s lives. Drawing from the interpretations of legal advocates working with women from Asian immigrant communities, I examine state sponsored “solutions” to violence that reproduce neoliberal agendas of the criminalization of blackness, securitization of borders. I argue, the law only protects immigrant women by inventing them into new legal subjects who enter the body of the civil and become “willing” to better the police state. How have these terms upon which women become eligible for protection come to be? What has this meant for the kinds of work legal advocates must grapple with in the relationships they build to further anti-violence and immigrant rights strategies in Asian immigrant communities? The racial assemblages of a legal trajectory of U.S. immigration law towards criminal enforcement cannot be fully understood without examining the paradox of protection. The talk is part of my larger ethnographic manuscript, Of Law’s Protection and Punishment: Enforced Safety in a Securitized State, engaging the interpretations of legal advocates working with women from Asian immigrant communities.

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