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Senate Releases Outline for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

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The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) commends the efforts of Senators Reid, Schumer, Menendez, Feinstein, Durbin and Leahy for taking a serious first step toward moving comprehensive immigration reform forward this year that includes strong commitments to family unification, including an to end discrimination against gay and lesbian bi-national families.  

These leaders understand that the status quo is no longer an option. Immigrant women, at the heart of many American families, are now in peril because of the signing of the Arizona law SB1070 signed by Governor Jan Brewer last week.

We look forward to working with Senate leadership in amending their outline so that it goes beyond enforcement-only mandates and instead takes a balanced, comprehensive approach that acknowledges the central role immigrant women play in their families and communities. A role reflected by the recent data: U.S. Census Bureau indicates more than half of all immigrants are women and the New America Media identified a trend of immigrant women as primary breadwinners and family caretakers.  In addition, 90 percent of Latino children in the US are American citizens; 62 percent of Latino children in the US have at least one immigrant parent. Data also shows that immigrant women are often the ones to initiate the citizenship process for their families.

Immigration reform should include an equitable path to legalization that recognizes the contribution of undocumented women in the “informal” economy such as domestic work, childcare and home health care. Alternative work structures such as part-time and contract work should also count toward legalization.

Hundreds of thousands of women are forced to wait up to 22 years to be reunited with their families due to backlogs in the way family-sponsored and employment-based visas are allocated.  Immigration reform must prioritize family reunification, and include equal rights for LGBTQ permanent partners so that they can sponsor a foreign partner.

Immigrant women are often vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Any immigration reform effort should ensure that all workers are protected by exiting employment and labor laws and provide meaningful redress when violations occur.  In addition, immigrant women must have portable legal status so they are not tied to any specific employer and can leave an abusive work or family situation.  Deeply flawed employment verification systems should also be decommissioned and replaced with mechanisms that include adequate due process and privacy protections. Women and gender non-conforming persons are more at risk of administrative mistakes that routinely occur with electronic employment verification systems due to name changes after a divorce or marriage or changes made to reflect gender presentation. As many as 32 million voting-age citizen and immigrant women may not have available proof of citizenship documents that reflect their current name.

An effective enforcement strategy must include the rigorous enforcement of due process and civil rights laws.  Local law enforcement agencies should not be enforcing federal immigration laws or conducting worksite and neighborhood immigration raids that tear families apart. Detention alternatives and humanitarian release should be the favored practice over immigration detention.  Refugees and asylum-seekers should never be unnecessarily detained.   When in detention, facilities should address the physical, social, emotional, and health care needs of female detainees by offering routine gynecological exams, pre- and post-natal care, and treatment for those who have been victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Focusing on uniting and supporting American families is something both Democrats and Republicans can, and should, support. NLIRH will continue to educate leaders on both sides of the aisle that our members throughout the country are not waiting on the sidelines: they are fighting and will continue to demand nothing less than balanced immigration reform, now.