What is not spelled out: immigration and women

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Earlier this week, a colleague forwarded me “Surprise! Immigration is a Woman’s Issue” written by Gloria Steinem and Pramila Jayapal with the Women’s Media Center.  Steinam and Pramila argue that immigration is a woman’s issue because women and children are severely impacted by workplace discrimination, gender-based/sexual violence, a backlogged immigration system, and ineligibility for various services including health insurance.  The authors challenge the country’s inaccurate portrayal of immigrants benefiting from the resources in the United States by shedding light about how recent immigrants are impacted by systematic factors.

Some key points from the article include:

  • “Many female immigrants are fleeing domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and other human rights abuses against females in their own countries.  Female immigrants are much more likely to have been the victims of violence than to be its perpetrators — just as are females in general.
  • Female immigrants suffer even more workplace wage discrimination than do their male counterparts. The threat of deportation makes them fearful of reporting sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence and other punishments that are overwhelmingly female.
  • Women and children make up more than 90% of the thousands of unwilling immigrants brought here every year by sex traffickers, yet such victims are far more likely to end up in prison than are the traffickers.
  • The average immigrant woman is better educated than her male counterpart, even when both are in low-paying jobs. Women are also more likely to be students in English language classes – many classrooms are as much as 70% female – because they want to instruct or to keep up with their children.
  • Though immigrants who are permanent legal residents pay the same taxes as do citizens, they are not allowed to receive Medicaid for five years. This punishes women disproportionately because they are child bearers and caregivers It also endangers the public in general by reducing the level of health in schools and workplaces. Nonetheless, this prohibition was enshrined in the recent healthcare reform bill.”

How do we integrate this knowledge into our prevention and intervention efforts to end sexual violence on campus?  The relevance isn’t only for institutions with large immigrant student populations, but for all campuses given that a cornerstone of higher education is to further prepare students in our increasingly diverse community.  Institutions need to, if they haven’t already, assessed their outreach, service delivery, campus security, response protocol, and disciplinary policies for accessibility to underserved communities.

Sexual violence is hugely under-reported throughout the United States.  To combat sexual violence, it is critical to work with partners and allies in order to create a more inclusive campus environment.  That community-level work, however, starts first on an individual basis, whereby one self-reflects and assesses one’s own awareness and biases around immigration, privilege, and history.

Resources

If you have resources relating to immigrant women and sexual violence, please post them or contact us so we can share the information on our website by emailing [email protected]

Livia Rojas, MSSW, is the Training and Resource Coordinator in the Campus Program at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) where she provides training and technical assistance to recipients of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Grant to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking on college and university campuses across the United States and territories. Livia has eleven years of working to advance human rights and student organizing through practice and research.

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