“Subject on Trial” and “illegal”s in the Collegian

The chapter titled “The Subject on Trial” in Queer Latinidad tells the story of, “… Marcelo Tenório, who was granted political asylum on the basis of sexual persecution in his country of origin” (Rodriguez, 84). The chapter illuminates the inherent paradox of the US legal system which attempts to establish an objective precedent using a subject, such as Tenório, who becomes the victim of diverse intersecting systems of oppression. The author using the court transcript, which includes Tenório’s testimonio, as the primary text demonstrates how a subject’s desires and identity are lost in the restrictive discursive space of a immigration courtroom. Tenório, who speaks only Portuguese at the time of his trial, has his testimonio as well as his name translated into English in the court’s transcript. Through the process of translation as well as having to adhering to the strict boundaries of legal discourse, the subject of Tenório is effectively displaced from the transcript causing, “The stories behind In re Tenório… like those presented in literary works, to exceed the limits of the written records that contain them” (Rodriguez, 87).

I liked how this chapter demonstrated the limits of law; the inability of the US justice system to accurately process Tenorio’s case reflects a subject who, in actuality and outside the confines of being identified as a proper precedent, defies the state’s set parameters of law. It reminds me of an article written in the Collegian a couple months ago concerning immigration. The article did a delicate job discussing the phrase, “illegal immigrant” which the author identifies as biggest issue in the immigration debate. The author’s conclusion was a half-hearted qualification of the judicial system and telling of the writer’s legal leanings: there must be a distinction between “illegal” and “legal”. Knowing the author personally, I was purview to the criticizing email s/he received after the article was published. The author derided the criticism as being over blown and unreasonable. “There are rules” the author told me.

My perceptive on this incident is that the two parties are viewing the issue of immigration in different ways; the author is invested (and directed by the genre of “Opinion”) in coming to a definitive conclusion on the subject of/in immigration. The author’s critic on the other hand cites the very real dilemma that pervades every government system of identification: the state has a desire to view a person’s identity objectively while the title of “citizen” (especially in the United States) is meant to be permeable and is far too dynamic to be quantified simply. I think both the author and the critic seek a different intent: one to preserve a system and the other the lives of people. While the ideological choice is simple, the lack of a “different” judicial system that can accurately translate a subject into law makes the enactment of such ideologies seem difficult, if not impossible. I’m not taking sides in the argument between the two: I think they are both wrong. One lacks aspiration to change or truly critique the status quo of law, while the other view does not acknowledge the confines of the established legal system. Ironically, it seems to me that the conflict between these two is conservative and liberal: the author grips the law tightly as a fundamental structure and the critic, in their disregard for the current system, is free from the parameters of law.

The translation of subjects into legal narratives is fails because it attempts to create a stagnant image out of a dynamic life. Everyone should be free to be (with) who they want to be, no exceptions. However, that’s impossible: the state wants us to identify in someway with it and because of this force, most of the ways we identify ourselves are either a conformation or rejection of the state’s pressure. From what I have experienced of Western culture, it is held together by the fictional balancing and equal weighing of a binary decision. In any manifestation, this is a false dichotomy meant to inspire competition and antagonism between subjects who approach the same but come to different conclusions. If the author and the critic weren’t so bent on proving the other one wrong they may be able to help understand each other and possibly come up with a solution through hybridizing efforts. From what I can see the issue stems first from ignorance and then from complacency. Some people are upset by today’s society but lack the data needed to form a original and critical stance. Other people are aware of the inhumane tragedies and are too invested in their continuation to want to change anything (both CEOs and consumers). Although the system is imperfect it is all we have now and does have the ability to be refined if a bunch of old people in robes deem the alteration acceptable. I wonder what other tribunals are available (I am only aware of the American form of justice, which seems skewed to say the least). I would be interested in seeing a new form of law that uses “difference” in identity as an ideological foundation. Yes, queer law is what I want. 

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2 thoughts on ““Subject on Trial” and “illegal”s in the Collegian

  1. An interesting post, Till. I am the “critic” that wrote an e-mail to the Opinion writer, as such, I’d like to also provide some critique of both the way this is written and the way the Collegian writer, and this post, misunderstand the message in the e-mail.

    I would like to state that the article was written using the extremely pejorative and immensely racist, dehumanizing terminology of “illegal immigrant”. The use of the word, and subsequent dismissal of the movements to “Drop the I word” was the reason why I chose to write an e-mail to the author. I was incredibly frustrated that the author had the audacity to claim that movements to stop saying “illegal” and say undocumented when referring to immigrants simply did not encapsulate the reality of the law. The notion that undocumented immigrant doesn’t reflect the legal system and the situation of undocumented immigrant subjects is narrow-minded. “Sans papier”, “sin papeles” or without papers is often employed because that is exactly what is lacking, the paper to prove that one belongs within the structure of the legal system, which I know all too well. As such, undocumented immigrant does not seem to dismiss the current legal system, quite the contrary. Undocumented immigrants know all too well the spaces they occupy because of implications of living in a state without the necessary documents that give access a long list of basic human rights. The critique of the author’s usage of “illegal” and dismissal of “undocumented” is not a disregard for the current system, quite the contrary, I am very well aware of the current system; it is a to call the author’s attention to the racialized illegality that has been historically produced as synonymous with Mexican, and because of further racism, lumps all Latin@s into this illegality. As Latin@s then, we then become “hailed” as the “illegal immigrant”, regardless of immigration status, which then suggests Althusser’s theory of the hailing the subject is limiting and sheds light on the racism that operates in hailing the subject in the legal system. This goes back to what Rodriguez argues, that the law does not exist and is not created objectively but that it is indeed racialized, gendered, etc., and that articulated identities are driving forces behind the formulation of laws.

    The author suggested that the categories of who belongs and doesn’t belong were natural. That “legal” and “illegal” were natural categories, which is highly counterintuitive, especially for someone who clings so dearly to the structure of law. To me, it seems quite obvious that nothing about the law is natural, as evidenced by Rodriguez and a what a quick read of Discipline and Punish will demonstrate. It seems to me, and millions of people, that the use of the term “illegal” is incredibly racist. That is where the critique came from because not everyone who breaks the law is deemed “illegal”. Why is it underage drinking and not illegal drinking? Why is Martha Stewart not an illegal business woman (https://www.google.com/search?q=illegal+buissiness+woman+&aq=f&oq=illegal+buissiness+woman+&aqs=chrome.0.57.6588j0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#hl=en&safe=off&sclient=psy-ab&q=illegal+buissiness+woman+colorlines&oq=illegal+buissiness+woman+colorlines&gs_l=serp.3…3719.4973.0.5154.11.7.0.0.0.0.660.660.5-1.1.0…0.0…1c.1.7.psy-ab.cCOek02Pqeg&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.44442042,d.cGE&fp=8be9629a68329e9c&biw=1274&bih=679?). I do not suggest that we start using these labels for anyone, as it is incredibly dehumanizing, but I provide these examples to try and explain why millions of people object to the use of the term “illegal immigrant”. There are very obviously rules but that does not mean they are not objective nor does it mean we should use racist and dehumanizing language.

    Two highly intelligent women wrote a response to the use of the term “illegal immigrant” and I highly recommend it to everyone who is interested.

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