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(WOMENSENEWS)–Women’s rights activists have long maintained that our national immigration narrative, while purporting to be gender neutral, is in fact fraught with assumptions and stereotypes.
Some of these notions apply to immigrant women with legal status in this country, some to women with no legal status, and some to both.
Scholar and activist Pramila Jayapal is co-chair of We Belong Together, a campaign launched by a coalition of groups seeking to redefine the priorities of the immigration debate and raise awareness on why immigration reform is basically a women’s issue.
To that end, here are eight of the most common misconceptions regarding the immigration debate that Jayapal has encountered in her work.
- Most immigrants are male. This misconception has been perpetuated by the major media, which often portrays immigrants as “scary looking men climbing over fences.”
Fact: Women make up over half of all immigrants in the United States and three-quarters are women and children, according to figures by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. In the undocumented category, women number around 4.1 million and the number of children, both boys and girls, is 1.5 million, out of a total of about 11 million, according to estimates by The Pew Hispanic Center.
- Immigrant men bring necessary skills while women are uneducated or unnecessary for our future labor force.
Fact: Some of the fastest growing occupations that will require additional flows of immigrant workers are in industries dominated by women, such as domestic care and elder care. However, these industries are not prioritized for employment visas. In addition, women who enter on their spouses’ employment visas are not permitted to work, even if they have attained the same level of educational achievement as native-born women.
- Shifting the immigration system to focus on a merit-based system, where applicants are evaluated for the skills they bring, will offer better opportunities for women to come to America.
Fact: In the merit-based system proposed in the bipartisan Senate bill that passed earlier this summer, applicants would be given points for qualifications like education and work experience. This would preclude many women from coming to the United States, due to discriminatory policies at home that prevent them from being educated or getting work experience.
- Women have plenty of legal ways to come to America.
Fact: Nearly 70 percent of all female immigrants arrive in the United States by being sponsored by a family member. The family immigration system is an important cornerstone of American immigration policy and is particularly important for women who have few other opportunities to enter the country. Current backlogs that keep 4 million people waiting to bring in an immediate family member disproportionately burden women.
- Undocumented women are a burden on the economy because they are not performing “real” work that grows the economy.
Fact: Nearly 60 percent of the estimated 4.1 million undocumented women in this country work outside of the home, with the majority working in the “paperless” industry, including as domestic workers and care givers, according to The Pew Hispanic Center. The other 40 percent or so are at home taking care of their children and making sure that their households run so that other members of their family can work outside of the home.
- Immigrant men and women face equal challenges in the labor market.
Fact: The wage gap that affects native-born women in the United States is even greater for female immigrants. An immigrant woman who has naturalized earns just 75 cents to a naturalized man’s dollar. Undocumented immigrant women from Mexico are even more disadvantaged, earning only 71 cents for every dollar that undocumented men from Mexico earn, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.
- Immigrant women choose to cross the border illegally because it is a quick method to gain access to the United States.
Fact: Crossing the border is an option dreaded by women. An estimated 70 percent of women who cross the border without family members are the victims of some form of abuse, according to the U.N. Amnesty International reported that as many as 6-in-10 Central American women and girls are raped as they cross Mexico in their attempts to reach the United States.
- Deportation is an efficient solution. When someone is deported, the problem is solved.
Fact: When primary earners are deported, they leave behind an estimated 83,000 partners a year, mostly women, who must deal with lost wages and an increased risk of poverty and hunger, according to a study by Human Impact Partners.
Liza Gross is a journalist and former newspaper executive with a longstanding interest in gender issues. She served on the boards of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and of the International Women’s Media Foundation.
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