Yasmin Christopher is used to fighting for things she cares about.
The Bangladeshi native was brought to the U.S. by her father when she was four years old, along with her siblings, mother and aunt. She worked as slave labor on her father’s farm.
Yasmin is now a student at Seattle University Law School and spokesperson for a national campaign against human trafficking. As an immigrant, she’s also been on the frontlines of immigration reform.
In fact, I met Yasmin a few years ago when we shared a jail cell together. We had both taken part in a civil disobedience protest to draw attention to the issue.
Last week, Yasmin traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for immigration reform. She was among hundreds of women from all over the country who are now talking about immigration as a women’s issue. “I got to bring my whole self in — as a woman, an immigrant, a survivor of trafficking,” she said after the trip. “I felt empowered on all levels because we talked about the issues from a women’s perspective.”
From a numbers perspective, the majority of immigrants to the U.S. are women and children. Yet, current immigration channels often exclude women. Only 27 percent of all immigrant employment visas go to women. Female spouses of immigrant workers are not allowed to work even though they have important skills and education. Three-quarters of the women who come to the U.S. do so through the family sponsorship channel, an antiquated and backlogged system where 4.3 million people have been waiting — sometimes for decades — to bring immediate family members to the U.S.
By tying the legalization of undocumented immigrants to work verification requirements, previous immigration reform proposals have failed to recognize the essential work of women. Currently, 60 percent of undocumented women are in the workforce. The majority work in temporary or informal industries, including domestic work as nannies or health-care aides for the elderly and sick. Those jobs don’t provide pay stubs or verification of work.
The remaining 40 percent of undocumented women are at home taking care of their kids so that other family members can go out and work.
All of these women perform essential jobs that contribute to our economic engine. But their work is disregarded because their jobs are off-the-books, so to speak. If verification of work remains a requirement for any immigration legislation, they would be denied a path to citizenship.
Recent news reports indicate that the "Gang of Eight" Senators currently crafting a bipartisan immigration bill are also weakening the family immigration system. Republicans want to eliminate categories of family sponsorship entirely, including the ability for a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident to bring a child over 21 years of age into the country. Women would be disproportionately affected by such a change since they make up the majority of those in the family sponsorship backlog.
Without a strong voice advocating for these women, they would be left out of all immigration reform proposals. That’s why the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum launched their national campaign, We Belong Together: Women for Common-Sense Immigration Reform.
The campaign seeks to engage women, both immigrant and non-immigrant, in immigration reform and offers up specific ways in which immigration reform proposals must be crafted in order to address the issues of women immigrants.
I am a co-chair of the We Belong Together campaign. I noticed several years ago that, even though many of the leaders of major immigrant organizations in the country were women, we rarely framed the issue as a women’s issue. Many women activists, even those pushing for progressive policies on civil rights, voting rights and pay equity, were supportive but not pushing for immigration reform. We are now doing the education and framing to show that immigration is a women's issue and that current immigration policy pigeonholes women and limits their full potential.
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