A Gift to Protect Hardworking Mothers: Immigration Reform

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Commentary Race

A Gift to Protect Hardworking Mothers: Immigration Reform

Jessica González-Rojas & Miriam Yeung

Passing immigration reform that honored and included immigrant women would be a truly great Mother’s Day gift.

Mother’s Day is a time to reflect on all the great things moms do, and in the case of immigrant moms, we have a lot to reflect on. Immigrant mothers are vital to the health and strength of our economy and communities, and with immigration reform moving in Congress, these hardworking women may soon be able to step out of the shadows and into a better future.

Through our work with the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, we meet these women every day. They contribute vitally to our economy, care for family members, and inspire children to succeed. They volunteer at their children’s schools, shuttle their sons and daughters to sports practices and music lessons, and care for elderly parents. While some would like to paint these mothers in an immoral light, they are almost always the ones teaching children right from wrong and making sure they grow up with love, support, and success.

The loving immigrant mothers we know make enormous sacrifices for their families—often in jobs where they are vulnerable to exploitation and harassment, or extremely overqualified and underpaid. New America Media found that even though 32 percent of immigrant women worked as professionals in their home country, only 13 percent of them do so here. Many immigrant mothers are domestic workers, helping others care for their homes and families as nannies, maids, or caretakers for the elderly. Unfortunately, this type of work is often not documented and therefore does not count toward earned citizenship.

Immigrant women are increasingly the breadwinners in the home and are more likely to own their own business than American-born women are—9 percent to 6.5 percent, respectively.

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Despite the love they give and their contributions to society, current immigration policy is burdening the lives of so many mothers. Rising deportations are separating children from their parents. A 2011 report from the Applied Research Center found that more than 5,000 children living in foster care had parents who had been detained or deported from the United States. Even when it is fathers and not mothers that are detained or deported, mothers are then left to struggle to financially support their families alone.

We also know that immigrant women are uniquely vulnerable to abuse at work and at home. One study by Domestic Workers United found that 33 percent of domestic workers in New York City had experienced some form of physical or verbal abuse, often because of their race or immigration status. We also know that immigrant women experiencing intimate partner violence are made more vulnerable when an abuser can wield immigration status as a weapon.

As immigrant mothers take care of others, current immigration policy prevents them from taking care of themselves and their own families. Immigrant women are twice as likely as American-born women to lack health insurance. Basic preventive care like cervical cancer screenings are out of reach for most immigrant women: undocumented women have almost no options for coverage and lawfully present immigrant women are barred from using federal Medicaid for five years after becoming U.S. residents.

Today, in honor of Mother’s Day, we ask Congress to support immigrant moms by passing comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes their work, keeps their families together, frees them from violence, and allows them to take care of their own health so they can keep caring for others.

In particular, we applaud one fierce leader, Senator Mazie Hirono, an immigrant woman herself, for her work to lift the voices of immigrant women and to improve the immigration reform bill by introducing amendments to keep women and families healthier by expanding access to affordable health insurance. We hope her colleagues in the Senate follow her lead and include these important provisions in the immigration reform bill.

Passing immigration reform that honored and included immigrant women would be a truly great Mother’s Day gift. We stand with Senator Hirono, and with immigrant women everywhere, to make that dream a reality.