Immigration Reform Must Protect Women on the Job

By Alicia Criado, Policy Associate, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR

Delbenel_blogpostpicNo woman should have to endure abusive or exploitative situations at home or in the workplace because of a broken immigration system.  Under current law, more than five million undocumented women in the United States face the real threat of silently suffering abuse in their homes and workplaces because of their immigration status.  On June 18, 2013, We Belong Together and the Women’s Refugee Commission hosted a congressional staff briefing titled “Women and Immigration Reform:  A Commitment to Women, Children, and Families.”  The event helped ensure that legal protection for immigrant woman, who compose 51% of all immigrants in the United States, are considered and defended throughout the immigration reform debate.

Pramila Jayapal, Co-Chair of We Belong Together, moderated the panel, which featured Emily Butera, Senior Program Officer, Women’s Refugee Commission; Representative Suzan DelBene (D–WA); and two female undocumented immigrant workers.  Adelaide, one of the workers, is a mother of two from Mozambique who was brought to the United States in 2008 to work full time in the home of a diplomat.  Upon arrival, her employer took away her passport and forced her to work seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m., all for $100 per month.  She hopes that the Senate immigration bill (S. 744) will enhance protections for immigrant women, such as by making U visas available for a broader range of violations like the workplace abuse and exploitation she experienced.  Currently, 10,000 U visas are given annually to victims of certain crimes, providing temporary legal status and work eligibility in the United States for up to four years.

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Adelaide2_blogpostpicAnother key issue discussed was the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act” (H.R. 2278), which was approved last week by the House Judiciary Committee.  Representative DelBene explained that the “SAFE Act” is narrowly focused on enforcement, criminalizes work, and increases the criminal prosecution of mothers, fathers, and children.  The designers of the “SAFE Act” are attempting to infuse extremism without offering solutions to our immigration system’s problems.  If the “SAFE Act” is passed, all undocumented immigrants would be classified as criminals and subject to immigration laws that differ by state.  This type of policy won’t increase the protections for immigrant workers, particularly women.  Instead some commonsense provisions include:

  • Strengthen protections for workers who are recruited abroad by foreign labor contractors to prevent workers from falling victim to exploitation, abuse, or human trafficking.
  • Ensure that abused spouses and children can maintain their legal immigration status and work authorization independently of an abusive spouse or parent in cases of domestic violence.
  • Increase the number of U visas available each year for immigrant victims who assist in the investigation or prosecution of designated crimes.
  • Protect legal immigration status and provide work authorization for abused spouses and children of temporary visa holders (those with work or education visas).

As the Senate wraps up debate on its bipartisan immigration reform bill, it is important that the House of Representatives continues in the same spirit.  It should consider including provisions, such as the ones listed above, to remove obstacles to safety and justice, keeping immigrant women safe on the job.

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