Mothers, babies, and abortion at the border: Fertility and the policing of U.S. national identity

Authors: Nancy Hiemstra*, Stony Brook University
Topics: Immigration/Transnationalism, Gender, Sexuality
Keywords: Immigration, detention, fertility, family separation, abortion, national identity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: 8210, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Migrant women’s fertility—or more precisely, non-white migrant women’s fertility—has long been the subject of fear, disgust, and anger in the United States. This has been evident in terms such as “anchor baby” and debates over birthright citizenship, exaggerated ideas of migrant women’s ability and desire to reproduce, and caricatured ideas of promiscuity and sexuality of migrant women. This paper employs feminist and queer lenses to examine recent U.S. immigration and border enforcement policies and practices pertaining to migrant fertility, families, and reproduction. I explore seemingly contradictory policies and views regarding migrant parents’ rights and responsibilities, juxtaposing instances in which the migrant family and parenthood is dehumanized and criminalized with instances in which migrants are forced into parenthood. In particular, drawing on popular news accounts, officials’ statements, policy documents, and other publicly available documents, I scrutinize the logics and discourse around the Trump administration’s policy of family separation, the stripping of parental rights from migrants consequent to their detention, and the denial of the right to an abortion to detained pregnant teen migrants. I argue that fertility—understood as mechanism and rationale for the policing of both physical and conceptual borders—provides a useful window into the white patriarchal heteronormative nationalism particularly visible at this point in U.S. history.

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