Limited Relief: Cause Lawyering on Behalf of Unacccompanied Chinese Youth
Statz, Michele L.
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Each year, approximately 1,500 Chinese youth migrate alone and clandestinely to the U.S. While most intend to advance themselves and their families socially and economically, not all are immediately successful: a number are apprehended and placed in removal proceedings. Here, immigration cause lawyers are tasked with presenting clients who might otherwise be termed "economic migrants" as uniquely vulnerable and deserving of legal status. Drawing on nearly three years of ethnographic research, this dissertation details the goals and responsibilities youth manage through multiple transitions of legality, labor and age alongside attorneys' negotiations of personal motivation and professional constraints. The "cause" that emerges, namely advocacy on behalf of unaccompanied Chinese youth, proves far-reaching and obligatory in largely unconsidered, and I believe unintended, ways. I argue that the lawyers in this study maintain their subjective jurisdiction (Abbott 1988) of this "cause" by constructing Chinese youth as uniquely vulnerable--and their parents as uniquely culpable--through normative narratives of age and morality alongside Orientalist economics and the "spectacular case." Cause lawyers further establish their responsibility and, in a sense, worthiness to "treat" this population of migrants through a rhetoric of care--i.e. by ambiguously conflating "welfare and safety" with legal status, best interest with rights, and guardianship with legal representation. At the same time, however, the actions, expectations and very presence of Chinese clients unsettle these understandings of care. As I evidence, unaccompanied youth challenge presumptions of passivity or dependency by being "overtly agentful" (Coe, et. al 2008) in their management of migration journeys and legal needs. By attending to the legal strategies of attorneys and youth, this dissertation illuminates the limiting choices attorneys make on behalf of a "cause." In so doing, it also points to the limited choices available to immigration cause lawyers, and thus to broader contradictions in the institutional practices, rights frameworks and political ideologies that govern the management and care of unaccompanied young migrants.
- Anthropology