6 Ways Immigration Reform Can Help Women

BlogHer Original Post

What happens when a feminist, a labor activist and hundreds of immigrants go to Capitol Hill? If what I’ve seen in Washington D.C. the past two days is any indication, a new broad coalition of new bedfellows is taking shape to push for women’s needs to be included as Congress embarks on comprehensive immigration reform.

For starters, women’s advocate Sandra Fluke joined the hundreds of immigrant women who work as domestic workers for a rally at a Washington D.C. church Monday morning.

Immigrant women rally at Washington D.C. church, Image Credit: Elizabeth Rappaport


Historically, feminism and immigration have operated as two separate movements, but why?

“Immigration is one of the most pressing women’s issues of our time,” says Vivien Labaton, co-chair of We Belong Together.

Women often come to the United States under different circumstances than men, and as both Democrats and Republicans make concrete steps toward changing the laws around immigration, now is the time to ensure that these circumstances of women are included in new laws. While the bipartisan Gang of Eight is expected to introduce a bill in the Senate next month, all eight of the high-profile Senators on that committee are men.

So this week, a coalition of women including National Domestic Worker’s Alliance, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Planned Parenthood, United Farm Workers, NARAL, Ultra Violet are joining for a movement called We Belong Together. I was invited by We Belong Together to witness this advocacy in the capitol.

While the Gang of Eight may be all-male, other female Senators are also stepping up to push for women’s issues to be included in upcoming legislation. On Monday afternoon, Senator Mazie Hirono (HI) led a Senate Judiciary committee hearing with fellow Democrat Al Franken (MN) and Republican Chuck Grassley (IA). An overflow crowd packed the chambers. This morning, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), herself the daughter of Austrian immigrants, voiced her support for immigration reform that ensures women are protected:

“I truly believe every single woman in the country should rally behind comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for all 11M undocumented people," Boxer said. She also stressed the importance of creating real pathways for citizenship. "We can’t have two classes of Americans, one with full citizenship and one with half-citizenship.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, Image Credit: Grace Hwang Lynch


6 Ways Women’s Needs Can be Incorporated into Immigration Reform

  • 1. Recognize women’s work The pathway to citizenship should not be tied to employment. 60% of undocumented women come in informal employment, caregivers, nannies. 40% are stay at home mothers. “Any path to citizenship needs to recognize that work and make sure all women are included,” says Pramila Jayapal, co-director of We Belong Together
  • 2. Keep families together, including LGBT families "We need to make sure families do not wait 15-20 years to see their children," says Jayapal. Fely, an 80 year-old Filipina caregiver who came in 1989, shared the story of how she became a citizen in 1996 and has been waiting for nearly 20 years for her children to be approved to come to the United States.
  • 3. Recognize women’s work in future employment categories Only 27% of women come under employment visas. It's not uncommon for women live in fear of speaking out against unfair work situations for fear of being deported. “We need to expand legal channels for women to come in the future, with the ability to move from employer to employer with freedom,” Ai-Jen Poo Director, NDWU
  • 4. Ensure protections for survivors of violence and trafficking Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) survivors of trafficking are eligible for a T visa, but in the ten-year period between 2002 and 2012, only 3000 of those visas were granted.
  • 5. Ensure families and ensure due process 200,000 parents of US citizen kids have been deported. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director of MomsRising says, “Over half of current immigrants in this country are women. The majority of women who immigrate do so for family reasons, or to escape oppression or violence.”
  • 6. Promote immigration integration that includes women and children “More than 5 million women are undocumented, an estimated 5 million children are living with worry that they won’t come home to their families each day,” says Rowe-Finkbeiner.

  • What’s really impressive to see is such a range of women of different races and socio-economic backgrounds in such an unprecedented way– Latino, Asian, black and white, attorneys and nannies-- sitting together on school buses and in Senate chambers. With all the teeth gnashing recently about the lack of engagement of feminist groups in supporting the issues of women of color, this is an encouraging step. Of all the hot-button issues in Washington, immigration reform is the one where there is public consensus and bipartisan agreement.

    “By our vote last November, we said we want comprehensive immigration reform,” Dolores Huerta, co-founder of UFW.

    Despite all the support for comprehensive immigration reform, these women will still face opposition. At Monday’s hearing, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) suggested that family reunification laws would burden the U.S.

    This afternoon, volunteers will visit 72 legislators on Capitol Hill, advocating for comprehensive immigration laws that include these points for women.

    Do you think feminism and immigration reform go together? Tell us what you think or share your stories in the comments.

    News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

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