Immigration Reform 2013: Will Abused Undocumented Women Get Their Rights?

After the terribly tragic events that took place in Boston last week, the country has pulled together to mourn our losses and move on. The new immigration bill is still in process of being reviewed and debated on Capitol Hill, but one thing that hasn’t really been discussed is the state of undocumented women, particularly victims of sexual abuse and rape. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of immigration, the truth is that the sooner rape victims receive help; the better they are at handling trauma. The Violence Against Women Act signed by President Obama earlier this year covers undocumented women who are victims of domestic violence. What does this mean for the new immigration bill?

While the major components of the bill thus far include a massive guest worker program and the cutting back on diversity visa initiatives, what some may not realize is that there may be certain issues important to undocumented women that aren’t being dealt with. Here they are:

1. Women’s Health:

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health commends the work of the “Gang of Eight” in bringing change to the immigration system, but also brings to light what the bill doesn’t do. For example, it doesn’t allow for immediate health care access to undocumented women who are suffering from grave conditions. Under the bill at present, immigrant women would have to wait for 13 to 15 years for affordable health care options. This can make things complicated for women suffering from cancer and other deadly diseases. Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the Institute, suggests that this can be the difference between life and death for these women.

2. Rape/Sexual Assault:

In VAWA, victims of domestic violence will be issued a U visa, given to the victims of crimes. While the Violence Against Women Act covers undocumented victims of domestic violence, there is no mention of it in the new immigration bill. Perhaps this is because it might be redundant, but it would be important to have some mention of it in the new bill.

Above is a video that was produced by the human rights group Breakthrough, and was prominently featured on Feministing in October. It is about the kinds of choices that undocumented women who face rape have had to deal with pre-VAWA.

Immigration is a tough question, and as a legal immigrant, I continue to grapple with the morality and legality of providing benefits for illegal immigrants. One thing is for certain, however: regardless of immigration status, no one should feel vulnerable and terrorized within our borders. 

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