Unfinished Business

Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Commonsense Reform for Women and Families

By Gabriella Ramel, a Spring 2013 Education Fund Intern

Immigration advocates gave testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Monday, March 18, pushing Congress to develop common sense immigration reform legislation that addresses the needs and priorities of women and families.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D. Hawaii, presided over the hearing titled How Comprehensive Immigration Reform Should Address Women and Families, and began by calling attention to the historically unequal treatment of women in attaining United States citizenship. “I know firsthand that immigration is a women’s issue and a family issue,”  Hirono said in her opening statement. “It’s from my own experience as an immigrant that I believe immigration reform should make the family immigration system stronger, not weaker. And we should not ignore the challenges immigrant women face.”

Mee Moua, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), said in her testimony that as of November 2012, nearly 4.3 million close family members were waiting in the family visa backlogs. She added that in a survey conducted by AAJC, Asian Pacific Islander American Vote and the National Asian American Survey, 54 percent of Asian Americans polled indicated that visa backlogs are a significant problem for their families. Families are often forced to separate due to backlogs that extend into decades of waiting and events such as unexpected deportation. Children are left without parents, elderly left to take care of themselves, and communities are broken.

Jennifer Ng’andu, director of Heath and Civil Rights Policy Projects at the National Council of La Raza, said in her testimony that “Keeping families together and strong is a core principle and a fundamental value of American life. It also promotes the economic stability of immigrants and their integration into our country, and we must continue our historic commitment to this idea.”

Ng’andu noted that immigrant families spur job growth by working together to start small businesses, and that immigrant women in particular are helping the country economically through small business ownership. She said that immigrant women represent 40 percent of immigrant business owners in the United States, often while serving as the predominant caregivers within their families.

Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, also testified at the hearing that consideration for immigrant women should be at the center of comprehensive reform:  “Common sense immigration reform must put the priorities of women at the forefront. Immigration reform IS a women’s issue, central to equality and opportunity for all American women, and central to the well-­being of the nation as a whole.”