Chinese Difference and Deservingness: The Paper Lives of Young Migrants

Posted: 21 Aug 2017

See all articles by Michele Statz

Michele Statz

University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus; University of Minnesota Law School

Date Written: January 1, 2016


Each year, approximately 1,500 youth migrate alone and clandestinely from China to the United States. If apprehended and placed in removal proceedings, these individuals and their legal advocates often prioritize specific narratives of family and age to qualify for legal relief. Such narratives are not new, of course. Shaped and arguably demanded by the law and broader ideologies of race, childhood, and citizenship, in many ways these accounts reflect both the intent and the constraints of an earlier subset of migrants, the Chinese “paper sons” who purchased family stories and identity papers to circumvent the Chinese Exclusion Act. Yet, as this article demonstrates, a meaningful divergence exists — one chiefly dependent on contemporary migrants’ status as “children.” For Chinese youth designated Unaccompanied Alien Children, establishing the vulnerability worthy of protection largely relies on a complex tale of cultural obligation and coercive, exploitative parents. As a result, instead of selecting one family over another as a century ago, today a specific and considerably more damaging image of the migrant’s family is put forth. Moving between the “paper sons” at the start of the 20th century and those daughters and sons at the end, this article critically explores the role that relatedness, either fictitious or filtered, plays in establishing legal relief in the United States. It likewise examines the unsettling of valued ties that occurs when actual, intimate relationships are silenced or diminished in the process.

Keywords: immigration, China, law, global youth

Suggested Citation

Statz, Michele, Chinese Difference and Deservingness: The Paper Lives of Young Migrants (January 1, 2016). Available at SSRN:

Michele Statz (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus ( email )

1035 University Drive
Duluth, MN 55812-3031
United States


University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

United States

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