Focusing on the U.S. campaign to secure recognition of same-sex couple relationships within immigration law, this article brings the scholarship about the social construction of undocumented immigration into critical conversation with queer studies. Challenging neoliberal representations of legal or illegal immigrant status as a sign of individual character, rather than as an outcome of multiple relations of power, the article highlights the central role of sexual regimes in constructing the distinction between legal and illegal. The article further explores, however, how sexual regimes always function in relation to crosscutting hierarchies of race, gender, class, and geopolitics. This suggests that the campaign for recognition of same-sex couples must address the multiple underpinnings of the il/legal distinction or else risk benefiting only the most privileged. The article then examines how recognized couple relationships provide the technology through which the state and its assemblages attempt to manage the risks associated with immigration and, over time, to transform legally admitted immigrants into “good” neoliberal citizens—while threatening those who do not measure up with potential illegalization. These dynamics raise important questions about citizenship, surveillance, discipline, and normalization that merit consideration by those struggling for recognition of same-sex couples within immigration law. They also enable us to further reconceptualize the legal/illegal distinction as an ongoing (rather than one-time) production, anchored in multiple relations of power that include, but are not limited to, sexuality. I conclude by questioning whether and to what extent sexuality may provide a locus for renegotiating the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants and its associated logics of violence.

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