“Illegal” status is commonly conceived as stemming from migrants' undesirable characters, yet recent scholarship has shown that “legal” and “illegal” statuses are created through political processes and relations of power that require critical scrutiny. This essay expands the scholarship by showing that sexual norms critically shape where and how states draw distinctions between legal and illegal status. In Ireland at the turn of the millennium, pregnant migrants were constructed as paradigmatic figures of illegal immigration, whose arrival and childbearing were to be prevented through changes to citizenship law. These changes, however, did less to prevent illegal migration than to expand migrants' routes into becoming designated as illegal and suffering harsh consequences. Furthermore, the legal changes reworked sexual, gender, racial, class, and cultural hierarchies at local, national, transnational, and diasporic scales, within the context of the state's embrace of economic neoliberalization. Overall, the essay suggests that Irish events illuminate the importance of bringing queer and immigration scholarship into critical dialogue, contributing to a better understanding of how nationalist sexual norms not only shape formations of migrant legality and illegality but also become redefined through concerns about illegal immigration in a context of neoliberalization.

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