Why Gloria Steinem Supports Immigration Reform and You Should, Too


By Elianne Ramos AKA @ergeekgoddess

For many of us, the burdens of immigrants are, well, other people's problems. We can commiserate but, at the end of the day, we’ve got jobs and families and a real life with enough problems of our own, right? Wrong. At an event organized by We Belong Together last week, Gloria Steinem and a select group of high-powered speakers including Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), We Belong Together‘s co-chairs Pramilah Japayal and Vivien Labaton, Barbara Young, and organizer from the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), Maria A., an undocumented activist and others, stressed the important reasons why women should take ownership of the fight for immigration reform.

“There is an idea that women’s issues are over here and immigration is over there,” said Ms. Steinem. “Three quarters of undocumented workers are women and children. When the image in the media is a potential terrorist or drug dealer and at best, a male farm worker, it is an unrealistic portrayal of who immigrants really are.” Immigration reform is an issue we should all embrace, and here are some of the compelling reasons why YOU too should consider supporting it too.

It’s not about numbers; it’s about families and children:

Imagine living in fear that you won’t ever see your children, or your spouse, or your mother ever again. That’s the sad reality for the estimated 4 million U.S.-born children who live in a household with at least one undocumented parent. The U.S. currently deports more than 400,000 people each year, and a quarter of these are parents with U.S. citizen children. Now, we don’t have to stretch the imagination too far to see the negative impact a surge in the numbers of vulnerable children can have on the future of our country. It is up to us women to help bring compassion into this heartless, ‘bottom-line’ driven process.

We can’t turn our backs on women being abused:

Though a lot of the blame for the domestic abuse many of these women face can be placed on the prevalence of chauvinism in the Latino culture, the problem is exacerbated by the fear of deportation. Maria A. explained how “many people are involved in violence in their own home or their workplace and are scared to request help because they think they are not able to report these things. It’s unfair for women to live with that kind of fear.” Abuse of any kind should be unacceptable, its victims safeguarded and the abusers duly prosecuted. End of story.

We’re most affected by workers’ issues:

Speaking of abuse: Ms. Young cited a recent study by NDWA, which found that 75% of domestic workers are immigrants and about half of those are undocumented. “Many of these women are usually asked to do work that other workers don’t want to do and work longer hours for lower pay,” she said. What’s more, these women are often cheated out of wages. Other studies point to a similar situation for women in the farm work and hospitality industries. Legalizing these workers will help stop the exploitation by unscrupulous employers, level wages and make working conditions fairer for all workers, especially for women. We must ensure that any immigration legislation passed includes these protections.

The reproductive rights of all women may be at stake:

Immigrant women are often the targets of discriminatory policies that prevent them from accessing proper care for themselves and their families. According to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, in 2005 alone, 80 bills were introduced in 20 states that would restrict immigrants’ access to health care or other social services. More and more of these bills are introduced everyday, usually by the same legislators who would like to strip all women of their reproductive rights. We simply can’t afford to let that happen. As Congresswoman Roybal-Allard pointed out, “as long as discrimination exists against any group of women, all women will ultimately be vulnerable to it.”

Immigrant women provide essential services that fuel the economy:

“There is an idea that high tech jobs, which are – culturally speaking – still dominated by males, are more what this country needs more than caregiving jobs which are – culturally speaking but not really – dominated by females. This is absolutely not true,” said Ms. Steinem. “We live in a prosperous country and consequently we have a long life expectancy, so we very much need caregiving work much more than we need high tech work.” The estimated 60% of undocumented women in the labor force provide American families with domestic labor, child and elder care and other essential support services. Legalizing these and other undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.


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