Immigration Reform is Key to Protecting Women from Violence

Immigration reform would help protect women around the world from violence.

The reason we’re all pushing for comprehensive immigration reform is because the system is broken from the top down. We have more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows who want to fully contribute to the country they call home. We have an existing immigration system that is broken and separates our families for decades at a time. Comprehensive immigration reform would help to resolve many of these issues and more.

According to a policy brief from the George Washington University Global Women’s Institute (GWI) and We Belong Together, entitled Protecting Women from Violence at Home and Abroad: The Role of the U.S. and Comprehensive Immigration Reform, comprehensive immigration reform that includes a clear path to citizenship could drastically reduce violence against women and girls in the United States and across the world.

“Every year, thousands of women and their families come to the United States in search of a better life,” the brief says. “They migrate to the U.S. for various reasons—to be with their family, for employment, and in many cases, to flee from violence and persecution. Once they arrive in the U.S., women are vulnerable to violence and exploitation, and are unable to escape because of fear of deportation, fear of retribution from their abuser, or for lack of legal protections.”

According to the brief, about 51% of foreign-born individuals in the U.S. and 48% of refugees are women, yet only 27% of U.S. work visas are granted to women. Migrant women tend to work in service industries, which are not prioritized for visas. Without a visa, women are vulnerable, left open to exploitation from employers and their partners, and often without the means to assert their labor and civil rights.

Immigration reform that adequately protects women will strengthen worker protections, no matter an individual’s immigration status. Citizenship, and not legal status, is the key here. Research shows that when granted citizenship, women are more likely to remove themselves from abusive relationships that they previously felt trapped in due to the threat of deportation.

“Every day that we delay action on reform that reflects the needs and contributions of immigrant women, our country is paying a terrible price,” said Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of We Belong Together, a campaign to mobilize women in support of immigration reform that keeps families together and prioritizes women.

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