Anna Burger(WOMENSENEWS)–Women, particularly women from other countries, are the hidden steel in the spine of our local economies.

All over this nation, we rely on the people who provide safe, loving, educational environments to our children; who maintain office buildings owned by some of the richest companies and inhabited by the wealthiest CEOs in the world; who take care of people too sick to leave their homes; and who provide personal care to seniors, the chronically ill and people living with disabilities.

These workers, part of a growing, service-sector work force, hold critical jobs that ultimately help support other working women and men and help keep entire communities healthy and whole.

The people we rely on for these services are predominantly female, immigrant and underpaid.

While the White House and Congress debate even taking up the issue of comprehensive immigration reform, women continue to suffer under an outdated immigration system that drives down wages, encourages workplace abuses and breeds divisions in our workplaces and communities–which ultimately hurt the entire nation.

It’s time to tell the story of comprehensive immigration reform through the lives of these women.

Immigrant Women’s Stories

Just this week, we learned the stories of three Mexican women employed on temporary worker visas at a seafood processing company in North Carolina. Solely because of their gender, the women were restricted to certain types of "women’s" work at the plant, underpaid, not reimbursed for their travel costs and then wrongfully fired. The company’s behavior is currently at the center of a lawsuit being taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union.

These stories aren’t new. In other cases, undocumented female workers have faced sexual intimidation, human trafficking, brutal physical battery and threats of deportation and separation from their families.

In 2008, after a massive, immigration raid at a meatpacking plant in Iowa, dozens of women reported being locked in the plant for work shifts that sometimes started at 8 a.m. and ended at 2 a.m. (Women’s eNews followed up on this situation with a story in December and found that women awaiting to testify in connection with charges that had been dismissed were still wearing painful electronic monitoring devices on their ankles. A complete package of Women’s eNews stories about the experiences of female immigrants can be found in its Web site’s special series Dynamic Diaspora.)

Factory Pays Fluctuating Wages

immigration rallyMicheline Charles, a nursing assistant and Florida Healthcare Union member, also understands the disparate and harsh treatment often reserved for immigrant workers and the special challenges women face. During the six years it took to secure a permanent visa for herself and her children, she had to leave her kids in Haiti while she worked at a textile factory. Though she enjoyed working with people from all over the world, she and her coworkers were paid whatever wage the factory felt like giving them.

Still, Charles is lucky compared to Victoria Márquez, a janitor and Service Employees International Union, SEIU, Local USWW organizer in Los Angeles. Márquez has not seen her family in El Salvador for more than 15 years. Despite working tirelessly to put them through high school and college in El Salvador, Márquez has not been able to obtain a visa that allows her to travel back and forth between the United States and her native country.

History makes it very clear when there’s a need for change. This weekend, we have an historic opportunity to stand together for comprehensive immigration reform that creates a better America.

It’s time to stand up for what’s right. This Sunday, March 21, please stand with tens of thousands of us for an immigration reform rally on the National Mall. Stand for Márquez and Charles. Stand for women across the country whose stories are even more tragic–and have yet to be told. Let’s unite and tell Congress and the White House that we’re not going to stand for these unfair policies any longer.

Anna Burger, one of Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2006, has been hailed by Fortune Magazine as "the most powerful woman in the labor movement" and named as one of Washingtonian’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2006 and 2009. She is both a top ranking officer at SEIU, the nation’s largest and fastest growing union, and the first chair of America’s newest labor federation, Change to Win.

For more information:

Immigration, SEIU:

Faces of SEIU – Immigrant Stories:—immigrant-stories.php

March For America: