The Senate is in the midst of a heated, often offensive, and sometimes funny debate (thanks for your input, Jeb Bush) over the most recent immigration reform effort, snappily dubbed the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” Many commentators have rightfully acknowledged that immigration is a women’s issue: as of 2010 in the U.S., women constituted 55 percent of legal immigrants and women and children constituted 75 percent of all immigrants. The fight for immigrants’ rights must be an integral part of the fight for women’s rights. (Speaking of which, is it just me or are there a lot of men in the Gang of 8?)
Immigration policies have historically ignored women’s unique experiences and the disproportionate burdens they bear. This is particularly true of legislation that requires formal proof of employment, given that approximately 60 percent of immigrant women work in informal industries with minimal paper trails (e.g. domestic workers). Despite their majority status, immigrant women at present receive only 27 percent of employment visas. As Hawaiian Senator Mazie Hirono said last week on the Senate floor:
In practice, the bill’s new point system takes that discriminatory treatment abroad and cements it into our immigration laws, making it harder for women to come to our country than for men. While unintentional in this case, the idea that we want to attract the most educated and skilled people, but they just happen to be mostly men, is the same argument used for generations to protect gender discrimination policies in the workplace. We all want a stronger economy, but we should not sacrifice the hard-won victories of the women’s equality movement to get it.
A round of applause for Senator Hirono, and for the entire group of female senators who introduced an amendment on Thursday that would recognize women’s hard work by offering 30,000 residency cards every year to workers in predominantly female fields.
The Senate’s current immigration bill does a lot for women: it extends the possibility of legalization and a path to citizenship to individuals with informal or little proof of employment, protects parental rights for immigrants who are deported and separated from their children, and makes it easier for spouses and children to reunite with family members who are legal permanent residents. Lastly, it supports domestic violence victims by offering twice as many specialized visas and allowing them to maintain their legal status independent of their abusive partners. Well done, team. The record number of 20 women serving in the Senate is making a difference for women in this country.