March 2014 Bar Bulletin
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March 2014 Bar Bulletin

We Belong Together: A New Call for Immigrant and Women's Rights

By Hilary Stern and Rich Stolz


They emerged from the Washington State Republican Party headquarters in handcuffs, one at a time, and as they did more than 200 supporters cheered. It was in Bellevue on November 7, and after months of inaction on comprehensive, immigration reform legislation in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, 33 women decided to take matters into their own hands.

Among them was Peggy Lynch, the wife of the former Seattle mayor, who stated, "I am here as a woman to speak up for women who can't. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed. It's been too long in coming. And if it takes a few women getting arrested to move people to action, then so be it."

The women leading and participating in this campaign are driven by a strong desire to round out the debate over immigration reform and remind the nation that immigrant women, and all women, have an important stake in this issue. In an open letter to Congress, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) reminded her colleagues that immigrant women have been a vital part of America's households for decades, as nannies, housekeepers, and care providers for our elderly relatives.

They acted under the banner of We Belong Together, a national campaign to mobilize women in support of immigration reform. Coordinated by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, and co-directed by local Seattle-based activist Pramila Jayapal, the campaign is making the point that immigration reform is a women's issue.

The numbers and moral crisis created by our nation's broken immigration system back up this assertion:

  • Three-quarters of all immigrants are women and children.
  • Immigrant women are less likely to have access to adequate reproductive healthcare, and the obstacles to access are even greater for undocumented women.
  • Immigrant women are the drivers of integration efforts in their families, with 90 percent of women immigrants from Latin America indicating that they desire to naturalize.
  • Immigrant women are small-business owners and job creators, making up 40 percent of all immigrant business owners and 20 percent of all female business owners in general.
  • Legalizing the status of undocumented women - bringing them into the economy and preventing exploitation in the low-wage labor market - means better working conditions and wages for all U.S. citizens.

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