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Gender Bias Tilts Immigration System Against Women

Despite protestations that the U.S. immigration system is gender neutral, there is considerable evidence that women have a more difficult time obtaining entry and a variety of visas. In a recent study by Cecilia Menjivar of Arizona State University, female immigrants were more likely to enter through family based modalities than as individuals on professional visas. Although much of this is based on cultures related to the country of origin, these stereotypes often limit the entry and legalization opportunities of many women.

As an immigration attorney in Texas, I am often confronted by the inequalities in the immigration system. Many of the female clients I represent have experienced gender bias firsthand. While I support the majority of the procedures and laws that permit foreign nationals to enter and work in the U.S., these inequities do a disservice to many highly accomplished female professionals who can make significant contributions to American business and society.

In the study, Dr. Menjivar investigated the cases of 51 women from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatamala and Honduras. She found that women had a much more difficult time obtaining visas than their male counterparts because they often lacked similar access to educational and employment opportunities. Many women who were mothers were often considered as mere partners to their male spouses, rather than as independent petitioners.

There are a wide variety of systemic barriers that fail to recognize the skills of women. Women who worked primarily out of their homes are often penalized in the legalization process. These women may be independent business owners or consultants who may lack documentation of continuous employment or proof of work, which can make entry or legalization considerably more difficult.

The process of seeking political asylum is also more challenging for women petitioners. The immigration system provides less credence to the belief that women have a justified fear of persecution because they did not actively participate in armed conflict with political groups. Many of these asylees may have provided material support or domestic services to activists, activities that the U.S. government may not consider as likely to result in retaliation.

The hope of Dr. Menjivar and others is that the authors of immigration reform in the U.S. Congress will recognize these inequities in the system and attempt to remedy them. Emily Butera of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program has urged Congress to include provisions that would provide fair treatment to women seeking entry and legal status. These should include greater consideration for the work that immigrant women perform in domestic settings and providing greater protections from abuse.

As a firm supporter of women’s rights, I am deeply concerned about the many inequalities in the immigration system. Many of my female clients who are eager to work and provide for their families have similar skills to their male counterparts but are often disadvantaged by the stereotypical thinking of immigration officials.

If you want to discuss your immigration matter, please call my office at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a confidential consultation.

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