On International Women’s Day, A Reminder That Immigration Is A Women’s Issue

With the national debate on immigration in central focus, this year’s International Women’s Day is a reminder that women are the face of immigration.

Today, women make up 51 percent of the documented and undocumented population. They are major drivers of economic growth and are more likely to own their businesses than their American-born counterparts. A majority of women who migrate to the U.S. are educated, hold advanced degrees, and have held professional jobs. Another 22 percent of the farm worker population is female.

Yet, at the same time, immigrant women face unique struggles:

Domestic Violence: The recently reauthorized Violence Against Women Act includes expanded protections for undocumented women and victims of human trafficking by providing women with legal tools to counter abuse, without fear of deportation. Still, these women are particularly vulnerable to abuse at home and work, because abusers use immigration status as a “tool of control.” In the U.S., victims of human trafficking are mostly immigrant women.

Health Care: Immigrant women are twice as likely as American-born women to lack health coverage. Immigrants pay taxes and contribute to the economy, but are still barred from Medicaid and health services like prenatal care. As a result, immigrant women are less likely to receive reproductive care, including cervical cancer, breast cancer screenings, HIV/AIDS testing, and sex education.

Discrimination: According to 2009 research by New America Media, immigrant women from around the world report facing increased discrimination since they arrived to the U.S. Latin American women report the highest increased discrimination by far.

Families Pulled Apart:In 2011, record deportation left more than 5,000 children in foster case without their parents. According to the Applied Research Center, another 15,000 will be placed in foster care over the next five years because of rising deportations. Meanwhile, families can be separated for up to 22 years because of visa backlogs, and a majority stuck in the backlogs are women. More women than men gain permanent residence in the U.S. through family-based visas.

Although their challenges are sometimes overlooked in the immigration debate, women are an important constituency in the ongoing discussion.