By Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
Executive Director, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Originally published on 2/14/13
Valentine’s Day is a time when most of us can take a moment from our busy lives and celebrate those we love. But for many women immigrants and same-sex couples, Valentine’s Day is a time they remember their separation from those they love and continue to face the fear that their families could be needlessly torn apart.
Current immigration policies mean that women like Maria*, who moved to the United States with her husband to seek greater opportunities to work and provide for their family, are separated from those they love. On a Sunday drive home from church, the couple and their son were stopped by police, accused of having drugs and escorted back to the Mexico border. When Maria’s husband tried to return to the United States to the life they had, he was caught in drug violence cross fire and killed. Fearful of the continuing violence, Maria sent her son further south to a safer part of Mexico to live with relatives. She now lives in Texas alone, the benefits of her family’s years of hard work lost.
Women like Maria are the new face of immigration in this country, comprising 51 percent of the immigrant population. Like her, they immigrate for their families — to reunite with loved ones, to overcome oppression or to create a better life for themselves or their children. Right now flawed immigration policy means that these women, despite their many contributions to their communities are forced to live in the shadows. Many of them, along with same-sex couples, are separated from those they love, too afraid to risk a border crossing for a reunion. Equally as terrible, some of these immigrants are trapped in relationships with partners who abuse them and use immigration status as a tool for control. Many of those immigrant women are navigating a complex legal system to advocate for their rights in these challenging circumstances but crash up against discriminatory practices and protocols when it comes to their status. We need to change this.
President Obama and bi-partisan Senate proposals make important steps forward in ensuring immigrant women could fully participate and contribute to society, and live with those they love without fear. These proposals provide a pathway to citizenship, a critical component of reform, and the president crafted a blueprint for immigration reform that will address the recent failure to expand protection for immigrant women in the Violence Against Women Act.
But they need support from us, and more work is needed. Immigration policies, even those that advance true reform, are often designed with single men in mind. The media only portrays the images of men crossing the border and renders invisible the contributions and leadership of immigrant women in our society: as breadwinners, as backbones of their family and as advocates in our communities. Comprehensive reform must address policies that disproportionately impact immigrant women, like eliminating the difficulties that can leave immigrant women totally dependent on their spouses or at higher risk for workplace abuse. Inclusive immigration reform needs to take into account the health, education and workplace protection needs of women. In addition, the system cannot hinge on a discriminatory marriage policy for family reunification that excludes the lives and relationships of same-sex bi-national couples.
Love doesn’t understand visas or stop at a country’s border. This Valentine’s Day, support love with more than a Hallmark card. Support immigrant women, and bi-national same-sex couples, by helping them stay with those they love.
I urge Congress to adopt reform that meets the Statements and Principles on Women in Immigration Reform outlined by the National Collation for Immigrant Women’s Rights. We stand ready to help the President and Congress advance comprehensive immigration reform, including reforms that will help immigrant women. Please, join us.
*Name changed to protect anonymity
Jessica González-Rojas is the Executive Director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the only national reproductive justice organization that specifically works to advance reproductive health and rights for Latinas. She has been a leader in progressive movements for over 15 years.
Cross-posted with permission from the Huffington Post