Is All Hope Lost in the Fight for Fair Immigration Reform?
Immigration reform. Anyone remember what that was all about? Remember when comprehensive immigration reform was going to be the defining accomplishment of Obama’s second term, the victory that made us forget about the devastating loss that was gun reform?
And then remember how all that hoopla ended in…….. nothing so far? Ya. Me too.
Though some journalists and news anchors are under the impression that immigration reform is slowly dying, some of us know better. Some of us know that giving up is not an option, because nothing can be worse than what so many people are living through right now.
Immigrants and their allies are not giving up because it is simply not a choice for us. We can’t keep living in a world where families are torn apart and immigrants put ten times more work into this country than they receive. That’s why this week, We Belong Together is leading Women’s Equality Week to advocate for immigration reform that is equitable for women and keeps families together. Around the country, impacted women and their allies are coming out and sharing their stories so that Representatives can hear them, in front of district offices and other symbolic sites of civic participation. During these actions, women are casting their symbolic vote for fairness and equality in immigration reform.
According to Vivien Labaton, the co-chair of We Belong Together, “Part of the driving purpose of this campaign is to foreground the needs of immigrant women in the broader immigration debate, because up until now women’s needs have been overlooked.”
Under the umbrella of fairness and equality, We Belong Together is using this week to address specific policy goals that will recognize the work of immigrant women and allow immigrant families to live with dignity. Currently, only one quarter of work visas go to women, even though women’s work is often the glue that holds families together.
Other women enter the country as dependents. “Women who come on their spouse’s visa cannot work, which leaves them more vulnerable. They are reliant on on their spouse, economically and otherwise,” notes Labaton. “We need more work visas to go to women directly, and for women here on their spouse’s visa to be allowed to seek employment.”
In addition, work visas need to reflect more accurately the skills of those seeking work in the United States. Most of the immigrants entering the country are not the highly trained STEM professionals for whom Obama has promised to increase work visas. Most of them are employed in the informal sector. If immigration reform is to be equitable, it needs to acknowledge the hard work that domestic workers, nannies, restaurant workers and agricultural workers contribute to our country, and make it possible for these hard-working individuals–most of whom are women–to come out of the shadows.
This week’s actions are about creating legislation that can bring women and families out of the shadows, giving them a platform to voice their needs and interests to the politicians who they will one day vote for or against. Our lawmakers need to hear the stories of people like Alysa Medina, whose mixed status family lives in constant fear of being broken.
When Alysa married her undocumented husband, she assumed, like most people, that the worst of their immigration troubles were over. Marriage to a citizen is often touted as one of the easiest ways to regulate an undocumented status, but things aren’t always that easy. In spite of their marriage, in order to get his papers, Alysa’s husband would have to cross back into his native Mexico, at which point he would be barred from re-entering the United States for 10 years. The couple have four children between the ages of 14 and 2, and are now faced with the impossible decision: have a family without a father for 10 years, or have a father living forever in the shadows?
“Of course we want to be able to adjust his status, to not live in fear every day. But we also don’t want to have to say goodbye to him for 10 years. He is a very involved parent. We just cross our fingers and hope that we are able to live under the radar.”
Alysa encounters many people do not understand how her husband can be undocumented even when he is married to her. Her answer? “Because the system doesn’t work for anybody. It doesn’t work for those who want to come here legally, for people who are undocumented, for those who are married to immigrants. And it’s especially unfair for children with undocumented parents.”
“Nobody can actually plan for a brighter future, because we are so focused on the day by day. I’m afraid everyday when my husband walks out of the house, and my children are very aware of the possibility that their dad might not come home one day. This feels so far away from what I grew up with, what I see for being American. I want to get back to where America stands for equality and equal opportunity.”
Yesterday our president delivered a speech honoring one of our nation’s greatest activists for racial justice, Dr. Martin Luther King. In it he told us, ”That’s where courage comes from, when we turn not from each other or on each other but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from.”
How is it possible that our president can call from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for us to collaborate across movements and support each other when his administration has shattered more families than any president’s before him? How can he argue that the pursuit of happiness is tied to one’s ability to work and support oneself yet not address the fact that millions of people are still treated like second class citizens, prevented by immigration laws from earning a decent living? How can we call ourselves the “land of the free” when we have thousands of people sitting in detention centers for pursuing that very happiness?
Fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream to create a more equitable society. Today, our society faces new inequities, but we’ve still got dreamers. And DREAMers.
And nobody can tell us that our DREAM is dead. So, to our U.S. Representatives:
Listen up. We’re not going home without a fight. This is our home, and we will never stop fighting for our right to live freely in it.