Queering Immigration in the Age of Trump: A Roundtable on Boutilier v. INS

October 2, 2017 - 9:57am -- Amy Sueyoshi

This invited blog was originally published with Notches on May 22, 2017.

When I first learned about Boutilier as a graduate student in 1990s, I was astounded that even white people could be deported. Why had Boutilier imprudently confessed to an arrest for which a conviction never occurred? If he had a green card, why even bother for citizenship? My cynicism over Asians being denied entry and naturalization for more than half a century drove my perhaps naïve reaction. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act ostensibly halted immigration from China and naturalization restrictions banned Japanese people from U.S. citizenship until 1952, despite their presence in the United States since the 1890s. Not until 1965 would immigration reform inadvertently loosen the chokehold on Asian immigration. Moreover, my own mother had lived peaceably, but not without struggle, for more than thirty years as a permanent resident. As I wonder about a deeper analysis of the Boutilier case in terms of whiteness, I am reminded about lying as a survival strategy in a world fearful of difference.

Lying is by no means exclusive to communities of color – white folks lie too. Yet I evoke lying here as a mode of survival for disenfranchised communities. It has been used productively as a survival strategy for queer communities and communities of color alike during particularly unjust times. My own research focuses on the turn of the century, when queers, Asians, as well as queer Asians participated in unapologetic lying to forge stability if not fulfillment in their own lives. Western writer and rice queen Charles Warren Stoddard, who founded the elite Bohemian Club, lived his gay life quietly even as those in his inner circle of friends were intimately aware of his sexual proclivities. Japanese immigrant poet Yone Noguchi, the father of Asian American artist Isamu Noguchi, also lied unabashedly to multiple lovers, male and female, in the 1890s and early 1900s, not only for intimacy but also for acceptance in the racially exclusionary United States and an increasingly heteronormative Japan. White men caught in a San Francisco fellatio club, which newspapers called the “Baker Street Vice Ring,” used interest in Japanese culture as a public but coded signal that they enjoyed the company of other men. The Baker Street men ultimately evaded conviction by strategically “forgetting” what happened at their club during a public investigation into their activities. Indeed, countless queers likely lied to avoid trouble, even if they later found more trouble by lying. These troubling queers would not make ideal plaintiffs in a Supreme Court case. Still, it’s important to not forget the individual work of these liars as part of queer history, in the same way we had previously forgotten about Boutilier v. INS since it appeared to be an unproductive case for the gay movement.