Immigration has been a huge topic in American politics, most recently during the 2016 presidential election and throughout President Trump’s term thus far.
To provide just a few examples of how immigration is being treated by the current administration, the president has reviled immigrants as criminals and said that undocumented immigrants “infest our country.” His original travel ban in 2017 barred entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen), barred refugees for 120 days, and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees. Further, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to propose rules that could prevent immigrants from receiving green cards if they or members of their household have received public benefits such as food stamps or Obamacare. These cases offer a glimpse of the hostility that immigrants in the U.S. face in today’s current political climate.
While many of us who oppose these challenges to immigration do so on the basis of tolerance and diversity, it’s important to bear in mind that immigration is also a feminist issue. Immigrants comprise a significant portion – more than 13 percent – of women in the U.S., and more than half of immigrants in the U.S. are women.
How does immigration affect women?
Immigrant women in the U.S. face challenges at the intersection of gender and immigrant status. For example, according to Status of Women in the States, they are less likely to be in the workforce, more likely to be poor, and more likely to lack health insurance compared to U.S.-born women.
In particular, the U.S. employment-based immigration system is sharply skewed against women. The vast majority of skilled-worker visas in the U.S. are granted to men, and the wives of these men immigrate to the U.S. on dependent visas that often do not allow them to work. These women are at risk of domestic abuse especially given the added power dynamic of their visas being legally tied to their husbands’, and they may struggle to escape their situations if they do not have the financial means or resources to do so.
As someone who currently works in U.S. immigration, I’m sadly familiar with the institutional barriers placed on immigrant women, and I have experienced the ways that the current presidential administration has made it even more challenging to immigrate. Through my work, I’ve come to the conclusion that being a feminist means supporting immigrant women, and supporting immigrant women means addressing the systemic hurdles that they face.
The Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards support women, some of whom are immigrants, in obtaining an education and skills to better their lives and those of their family. Take for example, Shamayel, who immigrated from Afghanistan seeking asylum.
Shamayel was born in Afghanistan in a city that was controlled by the Taliban insurgency, where violence and intimidation were used to prevent girls from going to school. Her parents valued education and sent her to an underground school. She and her family were also persecuted and threatened with death for their religion.
In 2012, Shamayel was able to travel to the United States and was granted asylum. She arrived here with no English, alone and worried about her six younger siblings, left unprotected in Afghanistan. Eventually three of them were able to join her in the U.S.
Shamayel is working and attending school while being the care provider for her younger siblings. She finished junior college and is studying political Science/ International Relations at UCSD. Upon graduation her dream is to work for peace and justice.
In 2018, Soroptimist International of the Americans selected Shamayel as a global finalist for the Live Your Dream Awards to invest in her education and future.
FEATURED PHOTO BY MOLLY SWORK, 2017
Melissa Young is a writer and former copy editor from the San Francisco Bay Area who is passionate about social justice, feminism, and the Oxford comma. Her current work as a legal writer finds her drafting visa petitions that enable people to immigrate to the USA. She sustains herself by making music, drinking boba milk tea, and having existential conversations.