Mother’s Day: Bittersweet Reminder of Immigrant Women’s Struggles

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Mother’s Day: Bittersweet Reminder of Immigrant Women’s Struggles

By Priscilla Huang, JD
Policy Director for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF)

Originally published on 5/8/13

May 12 is the day to celebrate not only our mothers and motherhood, but also the many wonderful women who have touched our lives in one way or another. For me, this day is even more special this year because it marks my first Mother’s Day.

I’m a proud mother to a young son. He is my heart and soul, and even at a few months in age, he has helped to shape me into the woman I am today. For him, I want to make the world a better, safer and healthier place—a place where there is fairness and equality for all.

As the daughter of immigrants—one a physician and the other a dentist—I know the importance and value of health care, especially for women and children.  And as the policy director of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, I know firsthand of the health disparities women and children experience.

What if you had to choose between taking your child to the doctor when he is sick or paying the rent? Or leaving your sick child at home alone or with a family member or neighbor so you can go to work because you can’t afford basic health care?

Sounds horrible, right? For some mothers, it may be hard to imagine not having access to health care. But for far too many women, this scenario is very real.

And many of these women are immigrants. Women make up more than 50 percent of our immigrant population.  Many are exposed to chronic poverty daily, despite being the economic backbone of their families, and some are undocumented.  They feel the pinch not only in terms of the high cost of health care, but the unfairness in the way our immigration laws harm women and families. As a result, far too many are uninsured.

The plight of immigrant women’s health care should not be ignored. Immigrant women are less likely than their citizen counterparts to receive important reproductive health care services, including breast and cervical cancer screening and treatment, family planning services, HIV/AIDS testing and treatment and sex education.

As health care reform implementation moves forward, more low-income hard-working women than ever will have access to affordable health care, but many immigrant women will continue to be locked out of these benefits. There’s an opportunity to fix this in immigration reform, however the current senate bill continues to impose unnecessary waiting periods on immigrants that have the effect of barring many immigrant women from accessing health programs for a 10 to 15-year period. Fifteen years is far too long for a woman to wait for cervical cancer treatment or a child in need of health care.

For many mothers, Mother’s Day is a bittersweet reminder of their struggles to provide and care for their children. Like me, they are trying to be the best mothers they can be. But, they are hampered by unfair policies and denied basics such as affordable, quality health care.

As I celebrate Mother’s Day with my son, I will think of all of the immigrant mothers, including my own. Hopefully by next Mother’s Day, our congressional leaders would have done more to ensure that all women have access to the care they need to adequately provide for themselves and their families.

Priscilla Huang, JD, is the policy director for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), a national health justice organization which influences policy, mobilizes communities, and strengthens programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

Cross-posted with permission from

This post is a part of the YWCA USA’s What Women Want blog carnival about immigration reform. Read all of the posts and join the National Day of Action on June 6.

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