By Amanda Reed, Communications Intern, contributed to this piece
On March 18 NOW participated in the March for Immigrant Women, Youth and Families in Washington, D.C. The march was hosted by the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, the National Asian and Pacific Women’s Forum, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the Women’s Refugee Commission.
More immigrant women currently reside in the U.S. than immigrant men. Women represent 55 percent of people obtaining a green card and 51 percent of foreign-born individuals living in the U.S. As we talk about immigration reform, we must not forget to include the rights of these women and consider the challenges they face living in this country.
Immigrants make up 46 percent of the domestic workforce and are an even larger percentage in major cities like New York. In a study by Domestic Workers United, 33 percent of New York City domestic workers reported that they had been physically or verbally abused. The abuse often targeted the domestic worker’s race or immigration status. In many cases immigrant women are more hesitant to report incidents of harassment because the perpetrator holds a position of power and may threaten to fire them or call immigration if they seek help.
Undocumented women in abusive relationships often face similar barriers to reporting acts of violence. A partner may discourage the woman from leaving the relationship using the threat of deportation or separation from their children. The most recent — and final — version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) included an expansion of the crimes eligible for U-Visas. However, during the reauthorization fight an expansion of the number of U-Visas was excluded. These visas allow undocumented immigrants to report crimes against them without the risk of deportation; only 10,000 U-Visas are allowed each year. It has been indicated that a number of issues regarding U-Visas — including the number available and the process to attain a U-Visa — will be taken up when Congress considers proposals on comprehensive immigration reform.
Immigrant women want to become citizens of the United States. According to research by New America Media, 58 percent of respondents (all immigrant women) stated that out of the members of their families they had the strongest feelings about naturalization. Immigrant women make up 40 percent of immigrant business owners and 20 percent of women business owners overall. They want to contribute legitimately to the economy, and they want to be with their families in the U.S. (70 percent of immigrant women gain permanent residency through family-based visas). Comprehensive immigration reform is necessary to keep all immigrant women safe. Let’s work for immigration reform that is open, affordable, safe and accessible to ALL immigrant women.