Women at the We Belong Together campaign launch pose with Dolores Huerta. Photo by Miriam Fogelson via Women Together.
"Ain't I a woman?"
As woman after woman stepped to the microphone at the Hyatt Regency ballroom in Washington, D.C., and made the case for why immigration is a women’s issue, Sojourner Truth’s words rang in my ears. Immigrant women living in states across the country—from Texas to Minnesota to Missouri to Maine—shared stories of being detained and not seeing a child for three months, of surviving domestic violence and not being able to call for help, of caring for someone else’s children but not being paid. They joined white, black and brown women representing reproductive justice, environmental, labor and working women’s organizations and luminaries like Dolores Huerta, Sandra Fluke and Ilyse Hogue as part of the March 18th campaign launch for We Belong Together: Women for Common Sense Immigration Reform.
If Sojourner Truth’s speech was a seamless call to action to connect slavery and women’s rights, the launch of the We Belong Together campaign was a passionate call to women to engage in the immigration debate.
Immigration policy really is about women. Two-thirds of immigrants to America are women and children. Current immigration policy and past reform proposals are what I have called “sexclusionary” in many ways: women’s work has not been recognized as real work, only 27% of employment visas go to women, protections for survivors of gender-based violence are being eroded, and Congress is threatening to limit the very family sponsorship system that has allowed so many women to come to America.
Previous and current debates have largely left out any analysis of immigration as a women’s issue. Partly because of that, previous immigration reform proposals were structured in ways that would have left out millions of women from any path to legalization, and would have weakened parts of the immigration system that women depend on. For example, if legalization and a path to citizenship are tied to showing proof of employment (as has been the case in the past), millions of undocumented women would be excluded who work as domestic workers, in informal industries, or at home taking care of their own children. Similarly, the current push by Republican Senators to eliminate certain family immigration categories—such as adult children or siblings—and weaken the overall family immigration system would disproportionately affect women, 70% of whom come to the U.S. through family sponsorship.
Last month, many of these issues were front and center during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on women and immigration. This was the first time in all the immigration policy debates for women to be the center of a hearing on the Hill. Senator Mazie Hirono, who chaired the hearing and is currently the only immigrant Senator, spoke movingly about her own experience of immigrating to America with a mother who was escaping domestic violence. Republicans, loath to appear anti-woman, put forward two witnesses who largely made the case with Democratic witnesses for the disproportionate burden that women face from a broken immigration system. All five witnesses emphasized not only the challenges immigrant women face but also the contributions—from engineers to domestic workers to mothers.