This paper explores the interaction of European and US laws relating to marriage across borders in the twentieth century, and how that reflected conflicting attitudes towards family formation and national belonging. Specifically it utilizes U.S. immigration law, U.S. military policies, and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service cases related to marriage to look at competing views on acceptance and the idea of “foreign.” Examples of spouses or potential spouses who endure separation include persons from several European countries.
A first set of examples highlights competing versions of citizenship status, particularly how people lost or gained citizenship and citizens’ rights and requirements of domicile. National policies conflicted on these issues often, particularly for women. As examples I use a Dutch woman in the early twentieth century who gained U.S. naturalization through her first marriage, though they did not live together; a Jewish Austrian woman who had to get a divorce from her husband in order to leave and move to the United States in the 1930s; and an agreement regarding residency for U.S. servicemen seeking to marry French women in 1945. A second set of examples looks at competing marriage law and how the INS decided those cases. An Italian couple who both faced separation in their earlier marriages were able to avoid deportation in a US marriage, but were unable to get their children from previous marriages admitted in 1916. Another example involved a proxy marriage of a U.S. serviceman with an Italian woman in the 1950s. A Hungarian woman who gained US citizenship and then tried to sponsor a spouse from abroad, only to face problems based on Hungarian law in the 1980s rounds out this group. A final set of examples looks more closely at how attitudes about nationality and morality came into play in these policies. It examines some of the writings of the Braun commission on recruiting women fraudulently for marriage in 1909, where potential Jewish migrants became the target. Another example covers U.S. military policy in occupied territories of Europe during World War II. A final example takes up the policy regarding fraudulent marriage in the 1970s, with one case from Portugal.
These cases point to different awareness of and adjustment to competing visions of marriage and belonging that individuals as well as nations must negotiate in the foreign relations of the one to one scale. State policies promoted or inhibited certain kinds of relationships and gender relations. People sometimes complied with those ideals, but these cases demonstrate they also sought and sometimes found ways to get around.
Suzanne M. Sinke received her PhD from the University of Minnesota. Thereafter, she taught at Clemson University, with a brief respite to serve as a Fulbright Professor at the University of Tampere in Finland. She joined the faculty at Florida State University in 2002. Currently she serves as the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in the History Department. As a specialist in migration and gender studies in the U.S. context, she teaches a variety of courses in U.S. and comparative history. She is the author of Dutch Immigrant Women in the United States, 1880-1920 (2002) and co-editor of three additional books, including Letters Across Borders: The Epistolary Practices of International Migrants (2006) which showcased her interest in how scholars use letters as sources. Sinke’s extensive and growing list of journal articles includes publication venues such as International Migration Review, OAH Magazine, Gender Issues, Journal of American Ethnic History, and Immigrants and Minorities.
The Organization of American Historians promotes Sinke as one of its distinguished lecturers. In recent years she served as co-chair of the AP U.S. History Curriculum Development Advisory Committee, as book review editor for the Journal of American Ethnic History, executive board member and program co-chair for the Social Science History Association, and president of the Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies. Sinke’s recent scholarship and next major project links marriage and international migration across U.S. history from bride ships, male majorities, and anti-miscegenation policies in the colonial era to web-matchmaking, female majorities, and fiancée visas in the late twentieth century. Sinke earned a second Fulbright to teach at the University of Salzburg in spring 2013. Check out her Fulbright blog, “A Salzburg Sojourn” at takeonthepast.info.