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Establishing Identity: Documents, Performance, and Biometric Information in Immigration Proceedings


Jaeeun Kim will be a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University beginning in September 2011. She received her Ph.D. degree in sociology at UCLA ( Special thanks are due to Rogers Brubaker, who shared his enthusiasm about the project and offered insightful comments and sharp critiques at every stage of its development. Mitchell Duneier, Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Gail Kligman, Rocio Rosales, Donggen Rui, John Skrentny, Iddo Tavory, Roger Waldinger, and the anonymous reviewer of Law & Social Inquiry provided helpful comments on earlier drafts. This research was generously funded by an SSRC International Dissertation Research Fellowship and a Wenner-Gren Foundation Dissertation Research Grant (Gr 7856). It was approved by the UCLA IRB (G#08-04-085). This article is the winner of Law & Social Inquiry 2010 Graduate Student Paper Competition.


This article explores the politics of identification in immigration proceedings by examining the struggles over family-based immigration in South Korea in the context of ethnic Korean “return” migration from China. It focuses on micropolitical struggles in bureaucratic settings, analyzing how migrants and immigration bureaucrats struggle to establish kinship and marital status in order to secure or limit migrants' access to the labor market and citizenship. Drawing on fieldwork in both the sending and receiving communities, it shows how migrants and bureaucrats use various types of “identity tags” (official documents, performance, and biometric information) to establish the authenticity of family relations and to accept or reject particular understandings of personhood, belonging, and entitlement. It also highlights the multiple normative orderings that inform migrants' strategies (including their use of “fraudulent” identity) and their implicit or explicit challenge to the criminalizing and stigmatizing view of the immigration state.