Immigration Study

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A new study, “Gendered Paths to Legal Status: The Case of Latin American Immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona”, finds that immigrant women are subject to stereotypes according to gender roles. Professor Cecilia Menjivar, from the ASU School of Social and Family Dynamics, talks about the research.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. A new study finds that immigrant women are subject to stereotypes according to gender roles. The study is called "Gendered Paths to Legal Status: The Case of Latin American Immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona." Joining me to talk about this issue is Cecilia Menjivar from ASU's school of -- Welcome, doctor. First give us some background on the study. How long have you been working on it, what were you looking to do?

Cecilia Menjivar: Thank you for having me here. We studied -- I studied working on these research about 14 years ago. I've been doing research on immigration in that area for -- Mexico, Central America and Cuba initially. And we -- With -- As the years went by I've been concentrating on the effects of laws at the federal and state level. So the research has been broad and we've included the immigrants themselves but also related to the immigrants, teachers, social workers, anyone who is related to the immigrants.

Jose Cardenas: On this particular study you talked to all those people and you gathered information that indicated to you that women immigrants are treated differently.

Cecilia Menjivar: Right. We were in the process of analyzing the data. We realized that men and women go through the process of legalization in very different ways. Sometimes the law is gender neutral. The law does not make any differentiation by gender. But when it is implemented in practice, we notice differences in how men and women go through the process, go through the process of fulfilling requirements, go through the process of applying for legalization.

Jose Cardenas: One question before we talk about the specific findings, you mentioned before that your research focused on people from different countries. You're talking about Mexico, Latin America, Cuba. Any distinctions as between the groups based upon their point of origin?

Cecilia Menjivar: Right. That was an interesting point in our study there. Were no differences by country of origin, the differences were between women and men.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about those differences. When we were talking off camera, you mentioned there are four categories.

Cecilia Menjivar: The categories we looked at are the main categories of immigration. Employment based, Visas, family, reunification Visas, the inclusive portion that allows immigrant women to self-petition for legalization, and political asylum. And so we looked at all these four categories and we found that in each of these categories women and men have very different experiences.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about what those different experiences would be.

Cecilia Menjivar: Yes. For instance, with the employment based Visas, we found that most of the men came in at -- Most of the men who were in the legalization process were petitioning as principle Visa holders, but the women were being petitioned as -- a male member of the family.

Jose Cardenas: That was true even when the women themselves were work something.

Cecilia Menjivar: Exactly. In fact, we had a case of a woman in Phoenix who was working three jobs, none of the jobs she was performing qualified for her to apply for an employment base Visa, so she was being petitioned by a male member of the family to come in as -- as an employee worker.

Jose Cardenas: I assume one of the disadvantages is that if the woman had her own independent status, for a work permit, she doesn't lose that status when the partner, the male partner loses his.

Cecilia Menjivar: Exactly. Exactly. If the men -- If the person is deported or is in trouble or loses in some way that status, that affects the women as well.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about the second category, family reunification.

Cecilia Menjivar: The largest category in which women immigrate. The reason for that is because we have these Visas -- The women who do not qualify for employment base Visa can ask -- Related to a male member of the family. The largest reason for women to immigrate --

Jose Cardenas: How are they disadvantaged?

Cecilia Menjivar: One of the main disadvantages we looked at in this study is that when someone petitions for them, they have to wait for one, two, three, five years sometimes for a work permit to arrive. So during that time when the Visas are being processed, the women cannot engage in employment in the formal economy. They have to work in informal economy, they have to do small jobs. Which reinforces the image of women as dependent.

Jose Cardenas: That would seem to be a situation where the law is not gender neutral, and you would think it would be to their advantage.

Cecilia Menjivar: Right. And we found that to be particularly interesting, because this is a law that is not gender neutral. Yes, it's created for women to -- Who are in situations of domestic violence to self-petition. What we found there is that some of the requirements in the -- To be able to file for that include, for instance, proof of having lived together. And for the men who have been in charge of being for the -- Paying for the rent, bills, all those bills are under the men's names, not the women's names. So it's been very difficult for women to prove that they had co-residence with the men. And on the other hand, sometimes the men become even more empowered when they are in those situations because they can dictate whether the legalization process continues or they --

Jose Cardenas: So they find themselves, the women in these situations find themselves at the mercy of the person who is the reason why they're categorized under the women against violence act.

Cecilia Menjivar: Exactly.

Jose Cardenas: Talk quirkily about the last category. Asylum. How are women disadvantaged in that category?

Cecilia Menjivar: Definitions of who is in danger politically, normally are based on the activities of men who are fighting in political conflictive regions of the world. So, for instance, when women are members of a family and a man is threatened, and the men has to flee, they often -- The entire family is a target and the women in that family, they can't prove that they have engaged in activities that have put them in danger as well. Sometimes they have particularly -- They have actually participated in the conflict, sometimes they have fed combatants, sometimes they have provided some form of support during the conflict. But they can't prove that they are combatants, they can't prove that they have actually engaged in conflict. So sometimes the definitions of who is in danger, at risk in political conflictive regions is -- That definition is based on the activities of men and not women.

Jose Cardenas: So in each of the categories that you've looked at, women are disadvantaged, your research has shown that. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to share this interesting topic.

Cecilia Menjivar: Thank you so much.

Cecilia Menjivar:Professor, ASU School of Social and Family Dynamics;

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