Immigrant Women Caught in Systemic Oppression

By Marisella Rodriguez, Communications Intern

In celebration of “Latina Week of Action,” the National Latina Institute of Reproductive Justice (NLIRH) is holding a blog carnival this week. NLIRH asked participants to answer what they think the REAL problem is concerning how immigrant women are treated in this country.

Upon reading the prompt, I struggled with figuring out where to start. The list of what undocumented immigrants can’t do was so long, I began to question exactly what it is they CAN do. I soon realized that there isn’t just one problem facing immigrant women, but a whole system of intertwined oppressions. Women in general are discouraged from voicing their opinions, particularly when they speak out against discrimination. From unfair pay to sexual assault, immigrant women have even less of a voice in our society. The opportunities that bring immigrants to a new country often turn out to be unreachable, and these limitations are soon braided into other forms of discrimination.

Imagine your parents bring you into this country illegally when you are just three years old. When you reach high school, all of your friends start to get summer jobs and driver’s licenses. Naturally, you begin to search for part-time employment to save for a car. The only problem is that every application asks for a Social Security number — and you don’t have one. This is the part where your mother or father has to sit you down and explain that you are not a U.S. citizen and are therefore unable to get a driver’s license. Obviously, this reduces your options of transportation, potentially limiting your opportunities for education, which then severely constricts your chances of employment, leading to a lack of health insurance, reduced access to loans, dashed hopes of ever buying a home…sinking in yet?

All of these restrictions have quickly become interconnected, especially through the loss of the three most basic needs for a successful life in the U.S.: employment, easy access to transportation and education. Where do you go from here?

Sofia Campos, a guest speaker at the 2011 Intern Hill Briefing hosted by the Feminist Majority Foundation, surpassed many of the barriers found in undocumented life. Despite a two-hour bus ride to and from school, Campos is a senior at UCLA and co-chair of IDEAS, one of the first organizations in the country to support and advocate for undocumented student rights.

As accomplished as Campos is, she may soon hit an unbreakable ceiling. If the DREAM Act is not passed before her 30th birthday, Campos may lose her last chance at becoming a U.S. citizen. Without legal documents stating her citizenship, Campos will be thrown back to the starting line to search for any job that will employ her “under-the-table” (often paying less than minimum wage) — despite her highly impressive academic success.

Campos and I are both young women of Mexican heritage. However, I am a U.S. citizen simply by being born on U.S. soil, while Campos works harder than most of our collegiate peers but continues to be denied citizenship. I worry about midterms, while Campos worries about how to get to school. My future is filled with opportunities, while hers is blocked at every corner.

The ratification of legislation like the DREAM Act could help thousands of young undocumented immigrants strive toward success — encouraging them to become high school graduates, attend college, and ultimately create rewarding futures for themselves.

Undocumented women, and immigrants in general, have the potential to be successful in the U.S., but we need to give them the opportunity to do so. Let’s not squander Campos’ potential and the potential of countless other young women and men who can make the United States a more prosperous country.

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