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On mothers without citizenship: an interview with Lynn
Author: Pamela Thoma
Date: June 2009
From: Genders(Issue 49)
Publisher: Ann Kibbey
Document Type: Interview
Length: 8,410 words
 THOMA: In your book, Mothers Without Citizenship: Asian Immigrant Families and the Consequences of Welfare Reform, you
analyze how a new nativism and foreigner racialization intensified in an anti-immigrant movement in the mid 1990s, a period of
heightened white anxiety about an emerging non-white majority. The political debates and new laws that they spurred concerning
immigration and welfare reflected racialized and gendered hostility and "tightened" full membership within the nation as part of a
"politics of closure." Wage earning and legal citizenship status, rather than documented residency, became formal requirements for
social belonging with protected rights and deserved entitlements. As you carefully document, when the new rules for belonging were
codified (in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, the Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act/Antiterrorism Act, and the Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act/PRWORA), the revised public policies had a
disproportionate and traumatic, even at times deadly, impact on Asian immigrant women and their families, including citizens,
especially citizen children in immigrant homes, legal resident non-citizens, including refugees, and undocumented or "other papered"
residents. How did you become interested in this particular aspect of the effects of welfare reform?
 FUJIWARA: At the time of what is considered the peak in welfare and immigration reform I was living in Northern California. The
political vitriol that seized the nation included an attack on single mothers seen as indicative of the moral breakdown of the family, the
racialized construction of the irresponsible welfare queen - on the rolls simply because she had lost incentive to work and responsibly
raise her children. Likewise, California was at the center of a hostile anti-immigrant movement that raised the charge that
undocumented immigrants were unfairly and in massive quantities utilizing welfare benefits at California tax payers' expense. We had
just seen the passing of Proposition 187, that though eventually ruled unconstitutional and never implemented, sent a very strong
message that immigrants should not seek social services.
 As a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz and a single mother at the time, I first began to research the racial constructions of single
motherhood in the family values movement so prominent in the Bush/Quayle administration. As welfare reform began to crystallize in
Newt Gingrich's promise as Speaker of the House to follow through with the Contract with America (with welfare reform and
immigration reform as top priorities), and then President Clinton's promise to "end welfare as we know it," the concern over the loss of
a safety net became an unimaginable reality. The connection between the demonization of single mothers and the move to end
welfare presented a critical moment to examine how race, gender, and poverty could work to dismantle a program (though fraught
with problems) that worked to keep women and children out of destitution.
 I was at the very beginning stages of my research project when I met a lawyer from the Asian Law Caucus who came to speak at
UCSC. I was sharing my project with him and he questioned why I wasn't focusing on immigrants. He shared with me what most
people were completely unaware of, that non-citizens suffered massively from the Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act, and the simultaneous immigration reform laws, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act
(IIRIRA), and the Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act. He stressed the devastating impact to elderly and disabled immigrants
currently receiving Supplemental Security Income, and all immigrants receiving Food Stamps. He suggested I go to a meeting up in
San Francisco the following week.
 I went to the information meeting conducted by several Bay Area immigrant coalition groups. Hundreds of people, mostly
immigrants, were there to find out what was going to happen with the new welfare and immigration laws. As the speakers began to
explain the new rules, the folks in the audience began to express their worry, questions, and fear over how they were going to
survive, or how they would care for their ailing parents. Organization leaders were assuring, and while simultaneously encouraging
people to naturalize as the only sure recourse to keep some of their benefits, they were also saying that it was time to pressure
Congress and the President to change the laws. The energy in the room was intense, and new meetings and subgroups were being
formed to address all the needs and issues that were going to have to be addressed. It was here that I first learned about the suicide
hotlines that community organizations were implementing as distraught immigrants were so fearful of what was going to happen to
 From that point on, I immediately shifted my project to the convergence of welfare and immigration reform. The ease in which
these particular policy provisions passed spoke to a very harsh anti-immigrant movement that clearly placed immigrants as outsiders,
rather than immigrants as future Americans, not to mention people with human rights. The idea that welfare had become a magnet for
immigrants to come to the U.S. paralleled in my mind with the embedded pervasiveness of the welfare queen. At that point I wanted
to draw out the underlying work of race, gender, and citizenship politics that operated at both the cultural level in terms of national
narratives, and policy formations that utilized these narratives to further inscribe some people out of the realm of entitlement. Thus,
citizenship politics played out on multiple levels, and I wanted to pull together and complicate both ideas of the unworthy citizen and
the undeserving non-citizen.
 THOMA: I want to explore much more fully the nativism of national narratives and how they informed and continue to inform U.S.
public policy in racialized and gendered ways, but before we get too far away from the disenfranchising legislation of 1996, I would
like to ask about how people and organizations initially responded to the intersections of the new policies. At what point in these early
meetings did it become apparent that refugees and immigrants and non-citizens and citizens would be lumped together in the
application of new welfare restrictions that limited immigrant eligibility and what was the effect of the lumping on organizing? Did
subgroups form along the lines of citizenship, or did the blended nature of families mitigate fragmentation? Similarly, did organizers in
California work with groups from other parts of the nation where there are significant populations of Asian immigrants, say in Texas or
New York, or how were people in those areas responding and mobilizing? Finally, to what extent were Bay area immigrant coalition
groups multiracial, involving Asian immigrants and Latino immigrants?
 FUJIWARA: The initial reactions were actually quite disconnected. That is, the intersections between welfare and immigration
reform did not crystallize as one might expect. The "ending of welfare as we knew it" spawned two very distinct reactions to welfare
cuts. On one level, and possibly the most visible was the feminist response to the loss of the safety-net. If you can remember the
immediate articles by prominent news magazines, the focus was on the ending of AFDC and the transformation of TANF, largely
because when most Americans thought of "welfare" they thought of Aid to Families with Dependent Children--the public assistance
most used by mothers with young children. This transformation was catastrophic and clearly in need of public attention and advocacy
for mothers who would soon face lifetime eligibility limits, stringent welfare-to-work programs, harsh sanctioning guidelines and
practices. In addition, PRWORA also established that states could choose whether they wanted to maintain eligibility for TANF for
their non-citizen residents. While immigrants faced additional challenges with the transition to TANF, like language, residency
requirements, affidavit of support contracts, and the potential of becoming a public charge, other welfare provisions were
implemented earlier and were distinctly harsh because they targeted the elderly, disabled, and blind non-citizens.
 Welfare reform presented such massive changes, yet the focus on the ending of AFDC in some ways overshadowed the cuts of
Supplemental Security Income and food stamps to non-citizens. Immigrant rights organizations were the primary, if only, major
groups that focused on the cuts to SSI and food stamps, but they also paid much less attention to the ending of AFDC. Even before
PRWORA was signed, immigrant rights' groups, immigrant legal centers, and immigration policy centers were already warning of the
devastation that would be caused by such drastic welfare cuts to such a vulnerable and needy group of people, people inherently
receiving assistance by virtue of their inability to maintain employment. In the immediate aftermath of the signing of the welfare law,
SSI was the first major provision to be implemented that had such a direct impact on immigrants. However, from my research it was
largely seen as an "immigrant issue" rather than a "welfare issue." This same disconnect maintained when the massive shift from
AFDC to TANF found hundreds of thousands of people dropping off the rolls because they could not fulfill all the new requirements.
When immigrants began disappearing from TANF, the issue was not taken up with the same momentum as immigrants facing SSI
and food stamp cuts, largely because it was seen as a "welfare issue" to be subsumed by welfare advocacy efforts to change existing
TANF requirements. In the conclusion of my book, I consider this a more complicated issue that needs to be addressed in terms of
how we conceptualize and organize around different constructions of citizenship.
 In terms of the immediate organizing efforts against the SSI and food stamp cuts there was considerable collaboration across
California, New York, Texas, and also places like Wisconsin and Minnesota that have large Southeast Asian immigrant communities.
The sharing of information, fact sheets, and marches on Washington were critical for the national coverage that appeared in The New
York Times and Los Angeles Times. Much organizing effort across states was successful due to electronic mediums. Massive emails
with testimonies, news reports, and hearings proliferated across states through listserves, websites, and organizational membership.
Bay Area groups were highly multiracial. I recall at one planning meeting, we had translators in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and
Russian. While specific communities clearly had their concentrated membership that consisted of a particular immigrant group from a
particular country, the broader efforts, such as marches, forums, and hearings were always incredibly multi-racial.
 THOMA: The organizing efforts and strategies you detail above and in Mothers Without Citizenship are enormously instructive
and moving, as well as important to recognize given the relative invisibility of Asian American women in welfare narratives. The
multiracial nature of the collaborations you are describing and the point you make in the book, that foreigner racialization similarly
affects people across race, such as Latina/os and Asian Americans, and differently affects various communities or ethnicities within
racial groups, brings up questions about the scope or focus of the book. Can you say more about why you chose to focus on the
category "Asian immigrant women and their families" but stopped there, rather than focus exclusively on "Southeast Asian refugee
women and their families," whose powerful narratives could be seen as the heart of the book?
 FUJIWARA: This issue proved more challenging throughout the research and writing than I ever could have imagined. This
tension that you have noted speaks to broader issues in Asian American Studies more generally. That is, the vast heterogeneity of
experiences, histories, cultures, etc., which shape a diverse racial group that for political purposes positions themselves strategically
due to common racialized experiences in the U.S. Specifically to my project the differences between immigration studies and refugee
studies became striking as I tried to navigate the different historical and political trajectories between migration and forced migration
as two very different experiences yet are situated similarly in terms of citizenship, globalization, and the impacts of the current social
 I wanted to keep the broader rubric of citizenship as the overarching framework in order to encompass the multiplicity of
concerns raised when thinking of immigrants and refugees in terms of exclusionary policies. For example I didn't want to exclude the
narratives of elderly women who migrated from China (or other Asian countries) in the post 1965 wave or before 1924, who worked
most of their lives, but were also cut from SSI, and found themselves in very similar situations. I think the narratives of Southeast
Asian refugee women and their families does become a driving force of the book, primarily because of the political and historical
circumstances of their resettlement. The notion of betrayal was not an expected theme when I set out to do my research, but it
emerged clearly as I gathered more and more testimonies and organizing materials. In some ways this narrative became the crux of
the movement for restorations as well, that ultimately impacted all non-citizens by restoring SSI for immigrants and refugees both. It is
important to remember though that my reference to Southeast Asian refugees is more of an identity than a legal category recognized
by welfare law. Most of the Southeast Asian refugees focused on in my book, were no longer eligible for benefits as refugees; rather
they were legal permanent residents, so actually the legal status is the same as immigrants. Most importantly, though, I wanted to
draw the interconnections to global patterns of labor migration and militarization as differing forms of displacement but with severe
consequences for both immigrant and refugee communities.
 THOMA: The organizing you detail is also crucial for demonstrating your argument that we need to think of citizenship in
"multilayered" terms, rather than separated into social and legal citizenship, if we are to understand and effectively resist "differential
citizenship" that increasingly limits full belonging and distinguishes among "deserving" and "undeserving" groups through social
policy. On an operational level and based on the responses and initiatives that you researched and participated in, how can
organizations, activists, academics, and even policy makers avoid conceptual splits such as social versus legal citizenship, and
human versus civil rights? Are there other major splits that have emerged in the post-9/11 era of xenophobia and anti-immigrant
anxiety and that are equally obstructive, in your opinion?
 FUJIWARA: Avoiding this conceptual split on an operational level requires a broader platform. In terms of the distinct responses
to the different welfare provisions that I described in my book, what was needed was a more encompassing and integrated immigrant
and welfare rights movement. This of course is much harder to accomplish than one would expect. Because the changes to welfare
were so multifaceted, the actual communities of concern changed and shifted across the two-year period. In the most immediate
aftermath of the law, it was elderly, disabled, and blind immigrants that faced the loss of SSI. Thus, organizers focused on the large
Southeast Asian constituency of SSI recipients and elderly and disabled immigrants. What got lost from the analysis were the
gendered implications and the need for a feminist collaboration based upon the historical patterns and politics of public assistance
more generally. While it is true that both men and women non-citizens were impacted, welfare as a feminist issue by feminist
activists, scholars, and politicians were slow to draw the connection of this community's loss of SSI with the more widely understood
"loss of the safety-net" as a mother's issue. I think the best illustration of this type of incorporation was evident in the film I discuss,
Eating Welfare. Here the organization the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence discusses and critiques the history of welfare
politics that has been clearly laid out by feminist scholars. The youth presenting the material focus on integrating the particular
obstacles and struggles their parents endured and continue to endure in New York's harsh workfare program once they are
sanctioned off of TANF. They demonstrate the role of organizing this largely Cambodian community by sharing their mother's stories,
as well as younger women's plight, and focus on the local welfare office to direct their anger and demands for change. Thus, in many
ways they incorporate the multiple layers of citizenship - and present an integrated narrative of non-citizens in a highly gendered
 I think the conceptual splits, citizen/non-citizen have been exacerbated in Post 9/11. Provisions in the USA Patriot Act have
further jeopardized the rights of legal citizens and non-citizens alike. The most immediate outcry after the Patriot Act was passed was
the violation of civil rights (such as the right to privacy - with more aggressive allowances for surveillance) for American citizens and
secret detentions of non-citizens. While groups have taken on both the civil and human rights violations since the Patriot Act has
been implemented, we have not seen a sustained movement that resists the similar and different implications for citizens and noncitizens. We have also seen another layer of differentiation within the category non-citizen. In multiple venues we see a clear and
oftentimes strategic distinction between legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants. This became most apparent in 2005 with
the Sensenbrenner Bill that proposed extremely harsh police-like tactics as a way to create an even more aggressive means to
removing undocumented immigrants. The war on terror has left us with blurred boundaries among citizens and non-citizens in terms
of civil rights and human rights, it seems that this would be a good foundation in which to approach demands for change of the
draconian policies instituted by the Bush administration.
 THOMA: The women's narratives are powerful, certainly in their content but also in the way that you create a patchwork or
weave together different sources to present them, so your methods are extremely important in this work. Would you describe more
the feminist ethnographic approach you took to researching the effects of welfare reform and how/why your plans to interview
immigrant women changed? Is there anything that you discovered about feminist qualitative methods while researching this project,
especially about interviewing and gathering testimonies as narratives, which you think other feminist researchers might find helpful?
 FUJIWARA: This is actually an issue I still struggle to come to terms with. I was operating within a fairly standard framework of
interview qualitative research methods. I set out with an ideal "sample size" that would allow me to gather the interview data that
would illuminate important themes to "prove" prominent experiences of immigrant and refugee women in the face of welfare reform. I
also started with a very idealistic notion of feminist research as a way to give women's voices agency and self-empowerment. In my
book I speak about the difficulties and unexpected challenges I encountered that led to a more feminist activist approach, but I do not
convey fully the level of mortification and regret that I felt for having attempted to interview women so vulnerable and who felt so
threatened by my intrusions.
 Although I was encouraged by the citizenship program director to make phone calls to set up interviews with women who were
current recipients, I realized soon that the power differential along with my language limitations would be devastating. I assumed that
there would be some way that I could communicate my own then-identity as a single mother from a working class background, and
my intentions to make welfare more accessible for women facing poverty. Rather, my immediate introduction (in English) as someone
doing research on the consequences of welfare reform was enough to raise concern and fear. Usually the first question they asked
was whether they "had" to talk to me, and when they found out that they didn't have to talk to me, they quickly hung up. But in one
instance a woman became very anxious, and worried that I was calling because she was in trouble. She put her young daughter on
the phone to translate. I could hear her anxiously directing questions at her daughter to ask me, and then her daughter would
translate back. The daughter was clearly uncomfortable as she sighed often and asked her questions hesitatingly. Once her mother
was convinced that I was not a state agent prying into her affairs, she told her daughter to hang up.
 I felt so horrible, I couldn't believe that I had put these women in the very position in which I was trying to critique and expose. I
quickly realized that I myself (with no research budget doing graduate work) could not conduct straight interviews with this group of
women. I almost abandoned the project entirely, but my very supportive committee convinced me to stick with the ethnographic
research with community organizations.
 As I stayed with organizations within the two-year period after welfare reform, my methodological approach evolved somewhat
"organically." I had come into contact and worked side-by-side with immigrant and refugee women in ways that I never could have
under any other conditions. It was helpful as a volunteer in most instances to be positioned lower in the organization's chain-ofcommands. I often "took orders" from immigrant and refugee women themselves during marches, workshops, or even during
citizenship drives. As a community activist, I was operating within a world where women's voices were often raw, angry, and defiant. I
was so fortunate to be in constant correspondence with other activists sharing their own experiences, passing on the words spoken
by the immigrants they worked with, and witnessing the collective work to pull these narratives together for advocacy purposes.
Eventually my work as a researcher/community participant actually became a bit problematic in the other direction. I lost sight of the
fact that I was doing research. And when I would consciously and self-reflexively recognize my role as a researcher, the fact that I
was going to get a Ph.D. and eventually turn this work into a book, I then had to deal with my self-loathing feelings of opportunism.
Once again my committee was instrumental in keeping me on track and recognizing that I was telling a story that needed to be told.
 I think the most evident "discovery" about feminist research came as I was revising the dissertation into the book. Weaving
together the narratives, voices, assertions made by immigrant and refugee women made me rethink the notion of voice altogether. I
utilized conceptions of testimony as a more fluid way to think about how we make statements, how we express emotions or thoughts,
and what actually counts as testimony. As I went back through my boxes and boxes of field notes and materials, I realized that I only
used a fraction of my "data" in my dissertation. I had underestimated, or even devalued, my accumulation of research materials that
were instrumental in the weaving of narratives from such a vast array of sources that allowed the book to critique social policy from a
 Often times when I'm giving a talk about my work, somebody will respond to the way that I speak about the "women's voices"
and they'll ask me to share an example of a woman's voice. They often ask with the expectation that I'll quickly turn to a page, and
read a snippet from an interview that captures a woman speaking and telling us her story. I have to explain that by using the notion of
"voice" I'm also complicating what gets counted as voice. The work I draw on in Chapter 3 about grief and grievance was a critical
turning point for me, particularly in terms of being able to analyze the level of terror expressed in the testimonies, statements, and
letters presented by immigrants and refugees hoping to change the policies. Where immigrants and refugees were leaving behind
suicide notes, bursting out at Social Service hearings, or simply being quoted by community activists in email correspondences, all of
this became the data that I was seeking to expose and examine the consequences of social policy, as it spoke to the incredible level
of fear, trauma, and distrust among groups who clearly felt betrayed. Now when I'm advising graduate students conducting
ethnographic research I tell them to save everything, document everything, and never to underestimate anything they come into
contact with as potentially valuable in telling the ultimate story.
 THOMA: Thank you so much for sharing more specific details about your research process, particularly your critical reflections
about the very complex but often oversimplified feminist notion of "voice," and the challenges of "collecting," hearing, and
representing women's voices in social research. I wonder how you figured this all out? Did you find that you had to draw on different
disciplinary or actual interdisciplinary methods to do this? Did you have to research how to "weave" the sources together? You
mention thinking more in terms of "testimony" and what counts as testimony, which all sounds more literary to me?
 FUJIWARA: I consider myself very fortunate to have received my graduate training in a sociology department that prides itself on
interdisciplinary critical studies. While sure, I took many core courses in theory and method, when it came time to map out our own
research agendas we were really given license to develop research questions and approaches that dealt with complex and
intersecting issues. However, when it came to writing the book as an untenured junior faculty member, I have to say that it was a real
challenge to pull all the various sources and approaches together.
 I faced several competing issues. Always in the back of my mind was the fact that I was facing a tenure review process in a
department that to some degree did not recognize interdisciplinarity (or at least my form of interdisciplinarity--i.e. sociological, political
science, and legal, feminist, ethnic, cultural, and literary studies). Although my full position is in Women's and Gender Studies, my
tenure line was in a different department. So even though the WGS program hired me because they appreciated and wanted a
scholar doing race, class, and poverty from an interdisciplinary approach, a segment in the department tenuring me did not fully
understand the value of my work.
 Competing with this very structural and institutional concern was my own passion and desire to do justice to the research I
conducted. It was so important to me that the book really worked against objectification, or distancing the emotional costs from the
structural consequences of welfare reform. Given the multiple forms of research, the most strenuous but also the most creatively
rewarding was the weaving together of different forms and sources of testimony, narrative, and interviews. I had to let go of the
institutional fears of my tenure evaluation and write the book so that it could incorporate vast and different forms of research and
scholarship. While I didn't research how to write such a book by weaving together so many sources, I soon discovered that I would
have to pull from different types of sources in order to present a more complete or embodied story. You rightly point out that in some
ways my notion of testimony sounds more literary, and this is exactly the case. I set the book up drawing from literary scholar Lisa
Lowe, whose book Immigrant Acts weaves feminist, Marxist, and race theory in the context of globalization as both historical process
and contemporary power relations for Asian immigrants. While I was focusing on social policy, law, and community mobilization, I
wanted to push theoretical frameworks of citizenship by demonstrating the different layers at play in terms of gender, race, refugee
status, and the broader racial, gendered, and global politics of disenfranchisement. Lowe fluidly weaves law, legislative dialogue, and
fiction to demonstrate global processes of power, oppression, and resistance. I too wanted to be able to encompass the broader
global, political, military politics as they shaped the lives and circumstances of major groups of U.S. residents finding themselves cutoff from benefits because of their citizenship status. In many instances the only way I could do this would be to incorporate quotes
from newspapers, interviews with community organizers, testimony at hearings sent via email listserves, video footage in community
produced documentaries, and social protest signs at demonstrations.
 As I made my way through this process, and as the book began taking shape my fears subsided by the excitement of what felt
like I was writing the book I hoped to write. I do truly believe in the value and importance of interdisciplinary scholarship. For me, as I
was writing about a group of people so disenfranchised and vulnerable, it required finding more innovative ways to tell a story that
had its own way of being told. Welfare and immigration research in the social sciences often has a very specific if not expected form. I
wanted not only to present the circumstances, conditions, and forms of agency I researched in the wake of welfare reform, I wanted
to push the way we think about welfare altogether. I wanted to show the myriad of questions yet to be asked, and yet to be attempted
to answer. I think because the "invisibility" of Asian immigrants and refugees in poverty challenges assumed discussions in racial
politics, in some ways this project really gave me the opportunity to show the possibilities for more complex and intersecting
discussions interdisciplinary work can encompass.
 THOMA: To my mind, recognizing the fear, trauma and distrust--terror to be sure--that welfare reform has wrought is crucially
important, especially now, and your book does just that. But this is no small task, and your discussion here and in the book expands
feminist theory about the re-victimization of women through the "systems" that administer social policy and that women must
negotiate. I think of the analysis that has come out of the battered women's movement, as well as the analysis in critical race
feminism of how shelters and women's organizations have, despite their best intentions, perpetuated forms of violence against
women through their own policies and practices. Your analysis courageously highlights a subtle dimension of the expanding body of
scholarship on the terrorizing effects for women in the U.S., especially immigrant women of color, of legislation passed to combat
terrorism in the name of national security.
 The third chapter of your book powerfully focuses, largely through the testimonies that you collected, on the trauma and betrayal
that Southeast Asian refugees in particular experienced when their assistance was cut since they or their family members had
participated in U.S. military operations in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and had been promised that they would be taken care of as
veterans and patriotic members of society, regardless of their legal citizenship status. The betrayal and the trauma even resulted in
some cases, as you discuss, in suicide. While the veteran status of the Southeast Asian refugees was not ultimately recognized,
Supplemental Security Income and food stamps were reinstated as a result of a movement to restore them on the basis of the
veterans' patriotic service duty to the U.S. and claims to U.S. military entitlement or the U.S. government's responsibility to take care
of veterans. Clearly, this was a positive outcome, and this section of your book reveals the devastating effects of restricting public
assistance and entitlements to legal citizens.
 I wonder if there was any controversy over using patriotism and/or military service as a strategy to restore benefits? What were
the various responses from immigrant communities to this part of the movement? Do you see any possibilities under the new Obama
administration for this strategy in making change in social policy that is restricted to serving citizens? On the other hand, it seems
there are also risks, aren't there, in using patriotism or military service as a claim to citizenship and its rights? I realize these are
broad questions, but I'm trying to get at what we can learn from this experience of PRWORA and use going forward.
 FUJIWARA: Chapter three was a challenge in so many ways, and your question speaks to some of the more difficult
contradictions that I was negotiating throughout my formulation of the betrayal experienced by Southeast Asian refugees. First off, the
notion of patriotism is tricky, and it's important to keep in mind that there were two levels at play in the movement to restore benefits.
On the one hand, I try to show how refugee recipients themselves are really telling a story of sacrifice--a sacrifice for a country (the
U.S.) who's military and political efforts drew them into a position where they lost lives, their homes, and their country. In terms of the
narratives from refugees themselves and refugee veteran organizations, they were not espousing a "patriotism" toward the U.S. that
insinuated a love and loyalty for this country, but rather the great trauma and suffering they endured trying to help downed American
pilots, fighting in the front lines, and experiencing the great loss of life in so doing. However, patriotism does play out in the movement
to restore benefits as a way to appeal to American's sense of the duty of the government to care for veterans who have served this
country. The idea that the government should support veterans who have served the country carries a strong political charge based
upon patriotic notions of loyalty and sacrifice. The point that immigrant and refugee's veteran status was unrecognized denied them
of the sacrifice they made on behalf of this country and the continued obligation the government holds to support them as veterans.
 I myself did not encounter a great deal of controversy among immigrant groups regarding the fight to restore benefits for
veterans. The fight to restore benefits was weighted from multiple angles. Many Latino/as and Mexicanos/as marching along side
Asian and Southeast Asians fought to restore benefits for those who have given their labor to the economy, but because of the strict
requirement to demonstrate ten years (40 qualifying quarters) of documented labor, most immigrant laborers were unable to remain
eligible as their labor was often under-the-table, seasonal, or not documentable through traditional means. I remember one
demonstration in Sacramento where agricultural workers brought food from harvests and stacked them up outside the Capitol to
demonstrate that the very people who brought and continue to bring food to American homes are the ones being cut from benefits.
 While the portrayal of betrayed veterans played out in the movement to restore benefits, the realization and publicity of the SSI
population as disabled, cognitively impaired, and in need of nursing care was the real motivating factor to restore benefits. This
realization was clearly made more urgent by the numerous and varied stories of who the victims of welfare reform were in terms of
elderly women and men who were legally residing in the country, many who paid their dues in this country, who were suddenly being
denied the support that actually sustained their lives. Newspaper accounts that predicted the removal of bed-ridden immigrants being
carried out of care facilities on gurneys was really the cold hard fact that legislators were going to be responsible for the deaths of
thousands of people. When you center that some of these people sacrificed their families, homes, and country for the U.S., then the
burden became all the more dramatic.
 I definitely think the use of military service and patriotism are complicated if not dangerous in delineating "deserving" immigrants
who demonstrate the ultimate loyalty through military service. The point I was focusing on was the racialization of the foreign
Southeast Asian male as still "un-American" and the gendered implications for veteran men outright fighting for the public assistance
they need due to poverty. I think our current political moment opens up very interesting and troubling ways in which immigrants can
be used for national patriotism. For example, in Bush's State of the Union address, he spent considerable time telling the story of a
Latino immigrant currently serving in Iraq. Bush told of this young man's sacrifice, his love and loyalty for this country, and how he
represents "the good immigrants." I think this is very problematic, and I constantly struggled with the possibility that that the story I
was telling would be read that way. At every possible point I tried to argue against the distinction between "deserving" and
"nondeserving" immigrants, but rather wanted to point out the power of citizenship as a delineating axis to unilaterally deny rights and
 I think it will be really interesting to see how President-elect Obama handles immigrant issues. His commitment to close
Guantanamo (although not limited to non-citizens) speaks to a commitment toward human rights. I'm hoping he'll transgress the
notion of political prisoners, enemy combatants, and the elimination of torture to all the Guantanamos throughout the U.S., and
across the globe. I'm hoping he'll recognize the thousands of non-citizens who have disappeared, been deported, or have been
tortured and harassed due to suspicion, and without due process. So little has been said about immigrants in the campaigns, this I
think will be important for us to watch. I'm aware of the immediate campaign seeking Obama to mandate a moratorium on ICE raids
that are devastating so many families living and working in the U.S.
 THOMA: Yes, a moratorium on raids would be a great first step--here in the Northwest the Seattle ICE detention center and its
operations are targeting Vietnamese immigrants and working families, among others, which is clearly extending the politics of closure
in the welfare and anti immigrant reform movements that you investigate. Can you give readers the names of any particular
organizations--either national organizations or West Coast organizations--that they may want to look into and perhaps become
 FUJIWARA: There are several organizations that are currently organizing to halt raids, detentions, and deportations. More and
more, these organizing efforts are taking shape through internet/cyber involvement:
 The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (http://www.nnirr.org/) has an open letter to President-elect Obama to
stop ICE raids and suspend detentions and deportations.
 Rise (http://www.therisemovement.org/about.html) has a petition to President-Elect Obama for a moratorium on ICE raids that
people can sign on line. They also conducted a fast that consisted of 300 people from solidarity organizations from across the nation.
 The Asian Law Caucus (http://www.asianlawcaucus.org/site/alc_dev/), which is an organization established "to promote,
advance and represent the legal and civil rights of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities," is based in San Francisco, and I talk
about this organization quite a bit in the book, because they were central to advocacy efforts for immigrants during welfare reform.
 Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (http://www.nwirp.org/ServicesProvided/Overview.aspx), located in Washington State,
provides legal services to immigrants and refugees. They are a primary source of education and public policy analysis for immigrant
rights groups in the Pacific Northwest.
 The Immigrant Solidarity Network (http://www.immigrantsolidarity.org/) is also a great web-based resource that provides
information about grassroots organizations and their projects from across the nation.
 THOMA: In the conclusion of Mothers Without Citizenship, you point out that under Homeland Security racial profiling has shifted
anti-immigration politics from exclusion to removal. You also point out that the "foreign terrorist" stereotype has replaced the
"reproducing immigrant woman" stereotype in the post-9/11 era of antiterrorism politics. While racial profiling has generated a certain
amount of public controversy, the masculinist nature of anti-immigration political discourse seems to be less disturbing somehow.
Women rarely appear in the discourse, except when racist paternalism is used to justify the war on terror through claims of
supposedly "saving" Muslim women.
 I must admit to feeling some relief that women are no longer the targeted immigrant stereotype, but I doubt I should be comforted
at all. What are we to make of the relative invisibility of women in discussion? Does the "disappearance" of the immigrant woman
from political discourse further enable her removal or her hyper-exclusion from citizenship? How is gender being used in current antiimmigration politics? You argue that a new citizenship politics in the U.S. must restore rights and belonging to all residents and reassert the responsibility of the nation-state to treat all inhabitants fairly. To what extent is it necessary or useful to expose how
contemporary discourse deploys gendered foreigner racialization and gendered citizenship? In this respect, where would you like to
see feminist research focus its attention?
 FUJIWARA: While women immigrants may be less targeted in the political discourse consumed with the "terrorist immigrant,"
women immigrants are not free from state intrusions, deportations, bodily violations, and the loss of human rights. I think you are
quite right that the dominant masculinist construction has worked to invisibilize the gross abuses women immigrants face by state
actors. I think the post-9/11 flurry of "immigrant as terrorist" was so racially profiled that it has invisibilized the gendered implications
for both men and women who now reside with fewer and fewer legal protections. We have heard of humiliating and violating
detainment and bodily searches of non-citizen women in airport security centers, immigrant women detention centers that are
inhumane and also do not recognize women's connection to their families, many of which consist of citizen children, and the
deportations of women immigrants who also fall under Homeland Security's newer forced removal mandates. Women immigrants
face forced removals just as men do, and international family rights have deteriorated in the U.S. as domestic policies supersede the
ability for due process or the adjudication by a judge that used to be able to determine the cost to family members of a deportation
 For me, I believe that all issues of social injustice should be taken up by feminist research. While the appearance of an issue that
may seemingly be targeting men, we have learned from the past that racist practices always impact entire communities. Assaults that
appear to be largely waged on men often overshadow the violations, degradations, and direct assaults that women of color face
routinely, institutionally, and intentionally. That citizenship is both gendered and racialized clearly needs more attention and focus by
feminist research agendas. In my next project I am examining the impact of forced deportations on immigrant families. Various
mechanisms have been escalated since 9/11 that resulted in the vast increase of forced removals from the U.S. ICE raids have
targeted labor sites as well as elementary schools where ICE agents have detained parents going to pick up their children from
school. In addition, repatriation agreements are being signed with Southeast Asian countries that have resulted in the deportation of
Cambodians and Vietnamese residents who came here as refugees. In my next research project I am examining the implications for
families who are subjected to these forms of removal.
 THOMA: Do you also focus on Asian immigrant groups in this new project? In a previous comment you mentioned the influence
of Lisa Lowe's Immigrant Acts on your methodology. What other scholars have inspired you? Are there particular studies on
immigrant families or immigrant rights that you admire?
 FUJIWARA: Yes, in my new project (which I'm just in the beginning stages right now) I do focus on Asian immigrants, but I'm
also trying to do a comparative analysis with Latino immigrant families as well. This project looks at the implications for families
remaining in the U.S. when a family member is deported. I am looking specifically at the forced removals that have resulted from the
policy acts of the 1990's--Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and the Antiterrorism Effective Death
Penalty Act (AEDPA) (both of these laws were passed within months of welfare reform) that were greatly exacerbated by post-9/11
'War on Terrorism' policies that targeted immigrants and led to the drastic increase of removals.
 In the case of Asian immigrants, new developments have greatly threatened the well being of the refugee communities I focus on
in Mothers Without Citizenship. On March 22, 2002, the Cambodian government entered an agreement with the Department of
Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) to forcibly deport Cambodian refugees to Cambodia
regardless of their legal residence in the United States. The Cambodian Repatriation Agreement (CRA) magnified the effects of the
two 1996 immigration reform laws, which require the issuance of deportation orders for anyone convicted of specified crimes,
including certain misdemeanors.
 Implementation of the CRA has shattered thousands of families in the Cambodian American community. Many Southeast Asian
permanent residents had accepted deportation orders in order to be released from immigration detention, after informal assurances
that there was no need to worry because Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam would never take them back. For Cambodian Americans, the
CRA now makes it possible for the U.S. to carry out those old deportation orders without any consideration of deportees'
rehabilitation or the impact on their spouses, parents, or children. Since the implementation of CRA, Cambodian families have been
separated, disrupted, and left vulnerable.
 Likewise the drastic increase of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) labor raids across the country has resulted in the
mass removal of undocumented and legally residing Latino immigrants who are living and working in the United States. A significant
proportion of those removed are tied to families, many containing young children, who are left behind without a primary wage earner,
their spouse, and/or their parent. Recent accounts of separated children as young as infants from their parents, many who are
citizens of the United States, has raised constitutional concerns regarding the legalities of the two immigration laws, IIRIRA and
AEDPA, in their ability to forcibly remove non-citizens without due process protections, the adjudication by an immigration judge, and
prolonged incarceration without legal representation. With the exponential increase of forced removals since the passing of these
laws in 1996, we are correspondingly seeing catastrophic consequences for the family members left behind. Community
organizations have noted the intense trauma these families experience; I focus on how families are coping, both economically and
socially, given the loss of their family members.
 Like Mothers Without Citizenship, this project will be multi-layered and interdisciplinary. I will be looking at the connection
between cultural constructions of the "enemy outsider" and "foreign threat" in the context of antiterrorism and anti-immigrant policies
that invariably impact the lives of immigrants and their families. Lisa Lowe's work has been influential both methodologically and
theoretically. Her work provides a cultural studies approach in terms of how we read text empirically, and a creative lens to rethink
how different forms of text, discourse, and narratives can tell us about the problems at hand. I also admire the complexity of theory
and text in Laura Kang's book Compositional Subjects. I drew from Kang's work to establish a broader framework of race, gender,
citizenship, and labor to grapple with both international and domestic forces of globalization and empire that shape immigrant
women's social location and political positionalities. While I have no legal training, I have been greatly inspired by the Asian American
and immigration scholarship to come out of Critical Race Theory. Given my interrogations of law and policy, legal scholarship has
really pushed my ability to examine the multiple layers and interconnections between the state, the community, and the family as they
pertain to particular social issues. I expect these strains of work to be prominent in my new research project as well. The work of Bill
Ong-Hing has already paved the way for understanding the complexity of the 1996 immigration laws and the Cambodian Repatriation
Agreement, and the cost to individual lives and their families.
 THOMA: Today, January 15, 2009, the US Congress voted to provide increased access to health care for impoverished children,
including legal immigrant children and pregnant women who were previously excluded from Medicaid coverage. Do you see this as a
major shift or evidence of a major shift in public policy concerning immigrants' rights?
 FUJIWARA: Definitely, this demonstrates a continued shift of re-inclusion for some immigrant groups. I discuss in my book that
the shift actually began shortly after the massive immigrant rights campaign that fought to restore the devastating welfare cuts. As
citizenship as the only (and not assured in many situations) avenue to maintain benefits cut to non-citizens, naturalization rates
increased exponentially. What emerged out of this was a new voting pool, a voting pool of new Americans who would be very
conscious about how legislators treat immigrants. Thus, on the one hand, a great deal of restorations have been made - although
piecemeal and haphazard (i.e. SSI, Food Stamps, now healthcare) - that are clearly steps toward recognizing the human rights and
need for equal access to public support, yet at the same time we had an ever-tightening, draconian criminalizing and policing of
immigrants as potential terrorists. Thus, on the one hand the concern of children and pregnant 'legal' immigrant women has been
recognized on the level of one policy formation (in this case healthcare), but on the other hand these same women and children must
live in fear of losing family members, or may even lose family members who could have provided for them in the first place. So, I don't
mean to sound completely negative and pessimistic, but I think public policy, to really embrace human rights, must consider the
myriad of policies and practices that prevent many immigrant families from real inclusion, security, and stability.
Eating Welfare. Dir. Eric Tong and Young Organizing Project. CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, 2000.
Fujiwara, Lynn. Mothers Without Citizenship: Asian Immigrant Families and the Consequences of Welfare Reform. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
Kang, Laura Hyun Yi. Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women. Durham and London: Duke University Press,
Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996.
Ong-Hing,Bill. Defining America Through Immigration Policy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004.
--. Deporting Our Souls: Values, Morality, and Immigration Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
LYNN FUJIWARA is an Associate Professor in Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Oregon. "Immigrant Rights Are
Human Rights: The Reframing of Immigrant Entitlement and Welfare," appeared in Social Problems (2005). She is currently working
on a project titled "The Politics of Removal: Forced Deportations, Exclusion, and the Impact on Immigrant Families," and is a
2008-2009 recipient of an American Association of University Women Postdoctoral Fellowship.
PAMELA THOMA is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Women's Studies at Washington State University. Her research
interests include Asian American cultural studies, film, transnational feminist theory and activism, and political economy. "Buying Up
Baby," an essay on postfeminist pregnancy films is forthcoming in Feminist Media Studies. She is currently working on a book
manuscript entitled, On Belonging: Citizenship, Consumer Culture, and Transnational Politics in Asian American Women's Fiction.
---------Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Ann Kibbey
Source Citation (MLA 9th Edition)
Thoma, Pamela. "On mothers without citizenship: an interview with Lynn Fujiwara." Genders, no. 49, June 2009, p. NA. Gale
Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A198171743/AONE?u=euge94201&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=94e184ea. Accessed
11 Nov. 2023.
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