Tuesday, September 22, 2020


Article Index

III. Marriage in Immigration and Citizenship

As outlined above, the first immigration regulations distinguished people based on their race and morality of conduct (especially the morality of female immigrants). The laws excluded certain immigrants who were considered a threat to the nation because of their moral character and culture, which were at odds with American values. Women's ability to immigrate was especially based on judgments about their moral character, which was in large part affected by their marital status. In many cases, women were only eligible to immigrate based on their marriage to a man who was eligible to enter the United States. Unmarried women were often excluded as prostitutes, while married women were also oftentimes excluded if they could not prove the validity of the marriage that would have made them eligible to immigrate. Definitions and conceptions of marriage, as applied by immigration officials and courts, were therefore integral to the development of immigration policy.

Gender and marriage also played important roles in laws pertaining to citizenship. [C] itizenship is a distinctive form of social classification that colors personal standing in any community . . . and expresses belonging. Similarly, marriage is also a civil status . . . that has a powerful impact on personal identity. By regulating marriage and privileging certain relationships, a nation can create and control its demographics. For example, there is a long history in the United States of antimiscegenation laws, which invalidated or criminalized marriages that crossed racial boundaries.

Even today, marriage continues to be an important factor in immigration policy. Officials still evaluate the legitimacy of marriages through judgments about what constitutes a proper marriage. This policy privileges some types of marriages over others, thereby allowing certain people to immigrate or gain citizenship, while excluding others based solely on a Western conception of marriage. This is especially apparent in the context of IMBRA, where regulations are imposed based on a couple's decision to enter into a marriage through an international marriage broker.

Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law