Immigration Law Not Created Equally, Study States

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local NewsImmigrant women who go through the legalization process are not treated equitably, according to a new study, “Gendered Paths to Legal Status: The Case of Latin American Immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona.”

Arizona State University Professor Cecilia Menjivar and researcher Olivia Salcido found that immigrant women are subject to stereotypes according to gender roles. Their findings show that women are often left to depend on men to petition (the first step in the immigration process) for their legal permanent residency, mostly through family-based immigration.

“It takes a long time for someone who is being petitioned to become a permanent legal resident, with the waiting time depending on the country they come from. Then it can take years sometimes to obtain a work permit,” said Menjivar, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics professor. Salcido holds a doctoral degree in Justice Studies and a master’s in anthropology from ASU.

Menjivar began her research 14 years ago through in-depth interviews with immigrant women and men from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. She and Salcido have interviewed 51 women about their experiences through the years.

“Because of structural barriers such as access to educational opportunities and acquisition of skills in the countries where they were born, women have fewer opportunities than men to apply as principal visa holders or for employment-based visas,” Menjivar said.

There have also been instances where women fall victim to stereotypical gender-based roles, according to the study. This was the case with Elena, a Mexican woman with a college degree and years of work experience who was successful as a banker in her country of origin, but was asked by immigration personnel if she might overstay her visa since she had a boyfriend in the United States.

Of all the forms of legal entry, employment-based visas are the most skewed along gender lines, according to the study. For example, in fiscal year 2004 women received nearly half of the employment-based visas, but only 26.8 percent were principal visa holders. Approximately 73 percent were dependents of a principal visa holder, usually a husband or a father. There are only 5,000 visas are available annually for “low-skilled” jobs, meaning that much of the work done by immigrant women, though critical for the U.S. economy, simply cannot compete.

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