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Queering the American Family: Same-Sex Couples and the Marriage Green Card Process

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2020, $150,000)

The proposed dissertation is a qualitative study of same-sex couples undergoing the marriage green card process in the U.S. - specifically regarding the evaluative process for married couples, immigration lawyers, and immigration officers, and how couples navigate the process so their marriage is deemed legitimate. Marriages are seen as subjective and therefore expected to be proven for and judged by immigration officials using family norms (e.g., children born). The goal is to understand how immigration enforcement officials evaluate the legitimacy of same-sex marriages, and how couples and their lawyers adjust aspects of family behavior in anticipation of evaluative criteria used to determine the petition’s lawful nature. The student will employ qualitative research methods to explore how these groups modify their practices in differentiating legitimate same-sex marriages from fraudulent ones. Research questions address: how same-sex couples make their marriage legible to a heteronormative bureaucratic system, how immigration lawyers influence same-sex couples’ family behaviors (given immigration bureaucracy’s evaluation criteria), and how immigration officers assess whether same-sex marriages are legitimate or fraudulent (given expectations regarding family norms). The student will interview same-sex couples who are going (or recently went) through the marriage green card process, lawyers who serve as brokers in the immigration adjudication process and construct the couple’s narrative through documentation, and immigration officers who exercise critical discretion in this process. The protocol involves working with the New York Immigration Coalition and other organizations to recruit subjects using snowball sampling, purposefully on the immigrant spouse’s nation for racial/ethnic diversity and stratified by gender. Pending signed consent for audio recording, the student will conduct 90- to 120-minute interviews with 25 couples in person or via online videoconferencing for $50 Amazon.com gift cards. Interview topics include marital behavior, legal procedures, and immigration history. They will also recruit, with immigration services provider support, 10 immigration lawyers and 10 immigration officers about same-sex couple assessment criteria. Also, the student will examine federal archive documents (institutional procedures, training guides, and assessment rubric) for information on how immigration policy is implemented at the bureaucratic level, focusing on immigration officer guidance on how to evaluate same-sex couples. Plans entail a bottom-up analysis of interview transcripts using flexible coding to move from case-level codes to analytic codes to data-driven theory, and NVivo software to analyze archival documents. Expected products include a dissertation, peer-reviewed publications, academic and practitioner conference presentations, and a presentation to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law, and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14). CA/NCF

Date Created: September 18, 2020