The Immigrant Woman: Invisible and Being Left Behind
There are approximately 11.1 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows. Of those 11.1 million, over 4.1 million are women with close to 18% of them being Asian and Pacific Islander (API) women. Furthermore, based on the 2011 American Community Survey (ACS), 51.1% or 20.6 million of our Foreign-Born population (naturalized or non-citizens) are women.
So, why does this matter? Because the face of an immigrant – as portrayed by the media and conservatives – is a man. A Latino man to be exact. Unfortunately, it is this generalization that can force immigrant women to suffer the most if left out of the current immigration debate.
There are two common means of applying for status in the United States – employment-based visas and family-based visas. Over the past few months, we’ve heard the Gang of Eight discuss raising the amount of H-1B employment-based visas, a visa program specifically for high-skilled and high-tech workers. The current limit for H-1B visas is 65,000 per year and the hope is to double that amount.
Even though the logic seems sound – increase the amount of high-skilled workers in hopes of increasing our country’s innovation – we need to realize that doing so diminishes the value of a woman’s worth. As Professor Karen Panetta from Tufts University shared, “How many women get H-1B visas?” Not many, considering nearly 85% of all H-1B visas are given to men.
What’s more difficult, the Gang of Eight is proposing undocumented and probationary immigrants to show proof of employment in order to apply for a green card and permanent residence. But by thinking ‘proof of employment’ is a relatively easy ask proves how detached from reality the Gang of Eight are.
A majority of immigrant women are employed in informal or unverifiable professions, for example working as domestic workers or caring for their own children and homes. Over 1.8 million US workers are domestic workers and almost all of them are women and/or foreign-born. Their duties range from looking after our children, providing for our sick and elderly, and taking care of our homes. While ‘women’s work’ may not be considered high-skilled or high-tech, it is still a critical part of our economy. It frees up the time and attention of other workers, essentially changing the way working-class America, well, works.
Family-based Visas, Healthcare, & Domestic Violence, Oh My
One can spend hours ‘talking’ about the invisible immigrant woman. There are stories of family reunification taking way too long, of immigrant women unable to receive healthcare benefits, and of abusive partners using immigration status against women to keep them silent. None of these stories are being included in the immigration debate.
In fact, every proposal given to us by the Gang of Eight leaves the voices of 4.1 million women behind. Mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends being shoved aside by gender-biased, discriminatory plans. If we want to expand the civil rights of all 11.1 million undocumented, their stories need to be included. So when you drink your wine and talk with your friends and suddenly find yourselves discussing immigration, think of the immigrant woman. She’s there in the shadows, waiting for someone like you to advocate for her.
‘Til the next time,