The Female Immigrant Experience
Fong Yee Lee
We are Mexican, Cambodian, Cuban, Polish, Somali, Haitian, Vietnamese, Iranian, Irish, Canadian, Armenian, Afghan, and Japanese. We are young, middle aged, elderly, single, married, divorced, separated, widowed. We are not formally educated; we are college graduates. We come from a rural area; we come from metropolitan areas. We speak English; we are illiterate even in our own language. We left our country for new opportunities; we left to accompany or join other family members; we left to escape war and persecution. We have children; we are childless. We are immigrant women in America. 1
HISTORICALLY, WOMEN DID NOT IMMIGRATE TO THE UNITED States in the same numbers as men. In 1900, only 30 percent of all immigrants were women. One reason was that migration to a foreign country was seen as a very risky venture, and men were judged better prepared to undertake its hazards than women. Moreover, a number of U.S. immigration laws specifically discriminated against women. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the National Origins Act of 1924 prohibited women from China and Japan from entering the United States.
One of the most problematic immigration laws affecting women is the 1986 Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments Act. Aimed at reducing "marriage fraud," the law provides conditional residency of two years to spouses of green card holders. To convert the conditional residency to permanent residency, a joint petition must be filed by both spouses before the end of the two-year period. A divorce or failure to file this joint petition makes the conditional resident spouse deportable. By investing the power of deportation in the hands of the green card holder, the law gives the green card holder tremendous control over the other spouse. Immigrant women who are married