I write from Dallas, Texas about a recent article in The New York Times (July 25, 2015, p. A17) with the headline “Texas is Forced to Ease a Policy on Immigrants”. The article reported on the problems of Ms. Nancy Hernandez who, after giving birth to a baby girl in a Texas hospital in 2013, went to secure a birth certificate (proving her daughter’s US citizenship) at a county office. Officials there told her that since she was a Mexican immigrant living illegally in the United States she could no longer secure that birth certificate—rules had changed regarding what documents had to be presented as a result of the dramatic increase in illegal border crossings that occurred in the summer of 2013—primarily of mothers and children or unaccompanied children. Ms. Hernandez filed a suit in 2015 and in a settlement the State of Texas agreed to broaden the types of proof that could be presented. This story illustrates the importance of focusing a gendered analytical lens on the subject of immigration. My book, Gender and Migration, does precisely this, reviewing the various ways in which mobility across borders differentially impacts men and women. Immigration policies are gendered, labor markets are gendered, and laws relating to citizenship rights have over the course of US history been gendered. Many immigrant families in the United States are composed of individuals with different legal statuses (we call them “mixed-status” families). Not only does this mean that children live in fear of coming home from school one day to find a mother or a father facing deportation, but it often makes women vulnerable to domestic violence or other forms of abuse if they are undocumented while a husband has secured legal status. Immigrant women, whether legal or undocumented, are often mothering from a distance—that is, working in the United States while their children are left in the home village somewhere in Mexico or Central America. We call this transnational motherhood, but there is equally transnational fatherhood—each parent redefining their roles to accommodate their absence in the daily lives of their children. As was witnessed during the summer of 2013, and again in October and November of 2015 when more than 10,500 children, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras entered the US, increasingly unaccompanied minors are making risky journeys to join a mother or parents working in the United States. Gender and Migration explores many of these strategies pursued by families as it examines the so-called “feminization of migration”.
Caroline B. Brettell is Ruth Collins Altshuler Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Interdisciplinary Institute at Southern Methodist University.