This Land Is Your Land

The U.S. Senate opened up the floor for debate and amendments on the historic bipartisan immigration bill, S. 744. This bill, which has the potential to alter the lives of many and improve the immigration system, is worth applauding. The bill that is now hitting the Senate floor has good and bad inclusions, but is a much needed step forward.

The momentum around comprehensive immigration reform has ignited a national movement to mobilize all women, regardless of race and legal status, to stand with immigrant women. In May, advocates in Illinois formed the Women for Compassionate Immigration Reform. This coalition of nonprofit and business leaders along with government officials is working to advocate for the passage of immigration reform legislation with a gender lens. You, too, can participate.

Immigration reform is a women's issue. We need an immigration reform bill that keeps women and their children together, and brings women out from the shadows and gives them protection under the law. If we believe that mothers being with their children and families is the cornerstone of healthy communities, then we should get behind immigration reform.

I've seen firsthand the dire consequences of a flawed immigration system. When I served as the executive director of Apna Ghar, a domestic violence program serving immigrant women, I met Rahima (name changed) who was seeking refuge. Rahima, a mother of two young children, was trying to escape her abusive husband, a diplomat. Her husband refused to take her to receive the medical care that she needed. Despite her suffering, she was respectful, helpful and a wonderful mother -- raising her children with high values. Our goal was to help her seek asylum in the U.S., but, given the immigration system in America, she had to travel to Canada to be granted asylum.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated story. There are many Rahimas. The reality is women have much at stake when it comes to immigration reform. Compassionate immigration reform means family unification without criminalization, protection for domestic violence survivors, and wage theft remedies for undocumented workers.

The Statue of Liberty reads, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" As an immigrant who came to America nearly 30 years ago, I was privileged to enter that "golden door." Like many other immigrants, I came for the opportunities, and like them I give back to my adopted country.

Latinos and Asians (both foreign-born and native-born) exert $74.8 billion in consumer purchasing power, and the businesses they own had sales and receipts of $28.8 billion and employed more than 180,000 people. At a time when the economy is still recovering, we cannot afford to isolate such an important element of our labor force, tax base, and business community.

Compassionate immigration reform is about living the ideal etched on the monument that has been the beacon of hope for generations of immigrants and their families. If the Senate doesn't pass the immigration reform bill, I propose we revise the Statue of Liberty to say, "No vacancies."