By Qudsia Jafree
Senior Policy Associate, Racial Justice & Civil Rights, YWCA USA
“Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”
– Oscar Handlin, 1952 Pulitzer Prize winner for “The Uprooted“
Immigration reform is a major focus in the news and of policymakers at the state level and here in Washington, DC – particularly today. The history of immigration impacts all of us, especially women and children. Perhaps you can trace your family lineage back several hundred years, to when your European ancestors were settlers fleeing religious persecution or famine. Or maybe you can trace it back to just a few decades ago, when your family migrated to the U.S. for a new life, or in hopes of reuniting with family members already present. What these two stories have in common is a rich, shared history of migration that essentially defines what the United States stands for: leaving behind home, family, and all that is familiar to go a place unknown that might offer new opportunities for work and education, and freedom from persecution in a society that values the pursuit of justice for all. Historically, America offered the prospect of freedom and success for any immigrant who worked hard enough for it.
Today, we’ve lost sight of our shared narrative as Americans who have welcomed immigrants – old and new – to our shores for centuries. Instead, we find ourselves mired in a battle over semantics, in which some feel threatened by immigrants who they perceive as weakening our economy and taking away jobs from others. At the YWCA, we don’t see it this way.
The YWCA has never made such distinctions between “us” and “them.” Since the late 1800s, YWCAs in port cities have welcomed new arrivals to the U.S., greeting them as they disembarked from ships and helping them to locate family already in the country, to help them adjust to the “new world.” During this era, the YWCA also provided temporary housing, job placement, and basic English lessons to new arrivals. In the 1920s, the YWCA fought for the rights of migrants to be united with their families by advocating against the Quota Act, which aimed to sharply cut down rates of immigration. And when Japanese Americans, many of them second-generation immigrants and YWCA members, were being displaced to internment camps in the 1940s, YWCA staff actively advocated for their removal from these camps.
Today is no different. Across the country in small towns and big cities, YWCAs continue to serve the continued and emerging needs of their communities, including immigrants:
- In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the YWCA maintains one of the largest immigrant and refugee resettlement program in the state, providing job training and placement, English as a Second Language classes and health programs to over 12,000 individuals last year.
- At YWCAs in Binghamton and Broome County, New York, staff members welcome women, including immigrant women, into their housing program, often stepping up to provide shelter for women from neighboring counties and communities who are fleeing from domestic violence situations and need safe harbor. Domestic violence and trafficking victims are able to seek refuge at YWCAs from Los Angeles to Michigan to Wheeling, West Virginia, where advocates work closely with victims to obtain U-visas, shelter and counseling for the trauma they’ve experienced.
- In Rock County, Wisconsin, YWCAs offer programs specific to first- and second-generation American youth are offered, and in Princeton, multilingual and multicultural nursery school programming is available.
The YWCA’s story is one of empowering and strengthening the lives of all who live in our communities, whether through providing housing and shelter; advocating for victims of trafficking, sexual and domestic violence; or providing multilingual resources and opportunities for children in our communities to learn, grow, and become thriving members of society. We do not discriminate based on citizenship. We welcome all who need our services into the fold.
In a national survey conducted earlier this year, immigration reform was identified as one of the top three legislative issues that YWCA associations would like to see addressed by the current Congress. YWCAs are deeply committed to advocating for a common sense immigration process that keeps families together here in the U.S., provides adequate protections for immigration victims of sexual violence and trafficking, and that creates a roadmap for citizenship for the 11 million who aspire to be citizens.
Specifically, we are calling for passage of broad and humane national immigration reform legislation that will provide a clear roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans, including women and children. We want reform that makes it possible for immigrants to fully integrate into the nation’s social and economic fabric, with all of the rights and responsibilities entailed in full integration. In order to do so, the YWCA urges Congress to enact national immigration reform that includes:
- A clear roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans in this country;
- Immediate access to quality healthcare and economic supports, with no waiting periods;
- Passing the DREAM Act; and,
- Providing strengthened protections for trafficked and immigrant women who are victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Both those in favor of reform and those opposed are anxiously awaiting legislation to be introduced in the coming days. The YWCA is hopeful that Congress will not forget the 11 million women and families living in the shadows, who dream of earning a pathway to citizenship. Let’s embrace our rich legacy as a nation of immigrants, level the playing field, and ensure that those who come to the U.S. today have the same opportunities as our ancestors. Urge your Member of Congress to support fair, comprehensive reform for all immigrants!
- Join the YWCA USA on May 30 for a blog carnival on common sense immigration reform. Share your thoughts on what immigration reform means to you, how it impacts women and the larger community you serve, and what is at stake if legislation is not introduced. To participate in the blog carnival, contact Qudsia Jafree.
- On June 6, the YWCA USA will host What Women Want: A National Day of Action for Immigration Reform, which will coincide with the YWCA USA’s Capitol Hill Day. This Day of Action is an effort to strengthen the conversation around the need for common-sense immigration reform, particularly highlighting the needs and challenges faced by immigrant women and their families. To learn more about how you can get involved, join the Host Committee, or become a sponsor, contact Qudsia Jafree.
The YWCA USA is participating in the A10: All In for Citizenship Rally on Capitol Hill today. Tune in to watch the rally live, and Tweet with us at #A10 and #TimeisNow.
The YWCA USA is a national partner of the Alliance for Citizenship.
22 responses to “Why We Need Fair, Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now”
Greetings and congratulations on your great work on comprehensive immigration reform! I will be informing and educating fellow members of the League of Women Voters of PBC to advocate on this issue and would appreciate the YWCA’s assistance and collaboration on this project. Please feel free to contact me or to put me in touch with other experts in the field. I’m located in Palm Beach County, Florida.
Many thanks, Evelyn
Evelyn T. Garcia
Evelyn, thank you for your comment and your support! Feel free to contact the YWCA of Palm Beach County and make a connection – the team there does great advocacy work, as well as provides direct services to the community.
– Katie, YWCA USA Social Media Manager
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