Immigration Is a Feminist Issue

Our current failed immigration system denies immigrant women the right to equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law. Women and children constitute three-quarters of all immigrants -- women alone make up 51 percent -- and yet only 25 percent of work visas are given to women.
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Immigration is a feminist issue. That's why I'm adding my voice to the growing number of women who are telling House Republican leadership to wise up and stop blocking reform of our badly broken immigration system.

This week, I'll be participating in the 48-hour Women's Fast for Families on the National Mall.

The Fast for Families on April 7-9 is the culmination of a month of action involving more than 1200 women fasting through 70 events in 35 states as well as in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City. It is being organized by We Belong Together, an initiative of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women Forum, with the participation of NOW, other women's and civil and human rights organizations and labor unions.

We Belong Together has put together a great fact sheet on immigration reform. Download the pdf here and distribute it to your friends and co-workers!

Our current failed immigration system denies immigrant women the right to equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law. Women and children constitute three-quarters of all immigrants -- women alone make up 51 percent -- and yet only 25 percent of work visas are given to women.

Yet two-thirds of immigrant women come to this country through the family visa system, not on work visas. That's partly due to discriminatory hiring practices here in the U.S. But it's exacerbated by employment and educational discrimination against women in their home countries, which hurts their resumes and makes it harder for them to get a job offer here.

This layering of discrimination upon discrimination affects immigrant women all along the employment spectrum. The U.S. government created a special temporary visa for so-called "highly skilled" workers. These H-1B visas can be easily renewed and often are stepping stones to permanent status.

According to the Seattle Times,

The United States actually welcomes more foreign women each year than men, but nearly 60 percent of the women were not working at the time they earned their residency -- many were homemakers who arrived through marriage or other family relationships.

That's the case for Bay Area immigrant wives such as accountant Anna Szar of San Francisco and computer engineer Mamtha Kashyap of Santa Clara, both of whom have university degrees but are banned from working in the United States because of the type of visas they hold...

It was clear from the start that her husband, not Kashyap, would get the H-1B.

That meant she had to come on a "dependent" visa for spouses, the H-4, which prohibits her from working. Kashyap said she spends her days volunteering at the library, learning how to cook new dishes and crocheting in front of the TV.

"I hate to say this, but the women in Saudi Arabia have more rights than the spouses, the wives of H-1B visa workers. It's inhuman the way we treat them," said Stanford Law School's Vivek Wadhwa, testifying earlier this year to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. "What country is this that brings high-skill immigrants in, but doesn't give them equal rights?"

The legal prohibition against getting a job, coupled with responsibility for the welfare of children and others in their household, makes immigrant women uniquely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation at the hands of husbands who, as their immigration sponsors, wield extraordinary power over their lives.

Women's rights and anti-violence advocates fought hard to add protections for immigrant women to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, but we ran into implacable opposition by Eric Cantor and other Republican leaders in the House.

Now those same Republican leaders, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and others, are balking at fair and humane immigration reform that women desperately need. Are we seeing a pattern here?

The backlog for attaining legal status through a family-based visa is so severe that about four million people are currently waiting to be reunited with their families -- some have already waited decades. Moreover, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants are not allowed to sponsor their partners or children for residency despite raising children and owning homes together.

We are a country of immigrants. Our laws should respect the contributions, against extraordinary odds, that immigrant women make to our communities every day. Sixty percent of immigrant women are in the labor force but work in paperless or informal economies -- as nannies, housekeepers, home health care workers, and other professions that don't provide a pay stub at the end of the week.

Every day, women take risks to contribute to the well-being and success of their families and loved ones. They move so their children can have a better life; they work so that their families will have food on the table; they take care of the young and the old; they open businesses and work hard to make a better life. It is time to value and reward their hard work and sacrifices.

And it's time to name and shame the legislators -- to be clear, nearly all of them are Republicans -- who keep blocking reform that addresses women's needs. Make no mistake: We will remember in November.

Voice your support for immigration reform that's fair to women here.

To see where Act.Fast actions have taken place, or about to take place, click here.

I'm proud to be standing with women who are hungry for common-sense immigration reform by joining the 100-women fast at the National Mall.

How about you? Would you fast for a cause like this? Do you support immigration reform that treats women fairly? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

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