Advocates Seek to Put a Female Face on Immigration Ahead of Reform Debate

Unlike in the past, when most immigrants coming to the U.S. were men, the majority of newcomers are now women, according to a recent poll. A panel of high-profile immigration experts and advocates met Wednesday in New York to discuss the policy implications of this change in immigration patterns. (FI2W reported on the poll findings when NAM released them in May.)

The discussion at the auditorium of the Ford Foundation was part of a series of events held by immigrant advocacy groups to bring the face of immigrant women to center-stage before the debate on immigration reform begins in Congress later this year.

Changing the story seems to be the name of the game at this moment. Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress, cast it this way:

Americans are told that immigrants are different, that they come here to get benefits, that they don’t want to learn English or become Americans. But this poll tells us that the story is different. Most immigrants are hard-working women, wives and mothers, who shared American values. They come here to work and get a better future for their children, they want to learn English and become citizens.

According to the poll, contrary to the notion that immigrants come from broken families, 90 percent of immigrant women manage to raise their children in intact marriages. The same is true for about 65 percent of American women with children.

Irasema Garza, president of Legal Momentum, a New York-based legal defense and education fund for women rights, said that the study is a good opportunity to change the tone of the discussion.

“Unless Americans start seeing immigrants as they are, hard-working people, most of them women, not terrorists or criminals, we won’t see real changes,” she said.

The experts said comprehensive immigration reform has to bring changes to improve and protect the lives of immigrant women, which will have a positive impact on poverty reduction.

“An attack on the safety net is an attack on women,” said Chung Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “We have to look at immigration reform as the great equalizer.”

The study, called “Women Immigrants: The New Face of Migration in America,” was sponsored by New America Media (NAM), a consortium of more than 2,500 ethnic media outlets nationwide, and conducted by Bendixen and Associates, a Florida-based firm that specializes in multilingual and multiethnic research.

The poll sheds lights on the daily lives of immigrant women, their roles in their families, and the impact of migration on their private lives. Now NAM and advocates are taking the data to various audiences in different cities with the hope that the new information will defeat old assumptions that immigrants are mostly men who come to the U.S. to make money and don’t want to become part of society. They want to ensure the realities and needs of women are considered when immigration reforms begins to be discussed.

While the study does not contain policy recommendations, pollster Sergio Bendixen said the results tell a story. “If I have to summarize it, I would say that there are two major recommendations: America urgently needs a comprehensive immigration reform, and resources for English language learning should be a priority,” he said.

The study has been presented to members of Congress, and its findings have been well received by most, Bendixen said. “Many of them (elected officials) showed a lot of interest because they didn’t know the story can be told this way.”

The advocates will hold a similar meeting in Chicago on Thursday, and the weeklong tour will end Friday in Los Angeles. They were in Miami and Washington D.C. on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, before coming to New York City yesterday. Here is the full schedule of the national tour.

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