Women are an important, overlooked constituency in immigration debates. Now, more than ever, immigrant women are the gateway to improving their own lives and the lives of their families.
Immigrant women make many contributions and positive impacts to communities. Economically, women are increasingly the primary breadwinners in immigrant families. They often bring in an additional income, making it more likely for the family to open a small business, and purchase a home. They also provide more stability for the family and help the family put down permanent roots by initiating the citizenship process for their families.
- Women make up more than half of all immigrants living in the United States. (U.S. Census Bureau).
- Women now make up 51% of all lawful permanent resident seekers in the U.S., up from 38% in 2000.
- There are an estimated 4.1 million undocumented women in the United States today.
- 4 million American citizens (ages 0-18) live in a household with at least one undocumented parent. (Pew Hispanic Center)
- Women are more likely to initiate the citizenship process for their families. (New American Media: 2009 report, Women Immigrants: Stewards of the 21st Century Family)
- Women are more likely to invest in their children’s education and send them to college. (Stephan Frais, Global Education of Girls Is Key to Development)
Watch a short video on immigrant women’s narrative: New America Media- Immigrant Women: Stewards of the 21st Century Family
The two most common means of applying for immigration to the United States are through family-based and employment-based visas.
Women often rely on family immigration to enter the U.S. because of social constraints and their lack of access to capital and resources in their country of origin. 69.7 percent of all immigrant women attain legal status through family-based visas, compared to 60.6 percent of men (Asian Pacific American Legal Center).
A poll of immigrant women found that 90% of immigrant women living in the United States report families intact. (New America Media)
Backlogs and Family Separation
Recent studies have shown that more women than men are migrating into the U.S., and the majority of those in the backlogs are women.
Families can be separated for up to 22 years because of visa backlogs (U.S. Department of State).
Some of the longest wait times are for family members from China, India and the Philippines. In fact, 6 out of the top 10 countries with the most backlogs are in Asia, and Asians comprise 32 percent of all family-based immigrants (U.S. Department of State).
To learn more about family immigration and separations, please visit:
- Family Immigration System and API Women Factsheet (10/09)
- Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (08/09)
American Citizens with Immigrant Parents
The 14th amendment guarantees that children born in the United States are American citizens, regardless of the immigration status of their parents.
Arguments that immigrant women are having babies in the U.S. in order to obtain citizenship for themselves are uninformed. Current immigration laws require that:
- Only adult-age American-citizens (21 or older) can sponsor immigrant parents for authorization to live or work in the U.S.
- American citizens who sponsor their mother or father (parents) must show that the household income is sufficient to support the family and his/her parents at 125% or more above the U.S. poverty level for the household size.
- In the first ever poll of immigrant women, researchers found that the majority of immigrant women that come to the United States are educated, with many holding advanced degrees and have held professional jobs in their countries. (New America Media, 2009)
- 22% of the farm worker population is female (National Agricultural Workers Survey, U.S. Department of Labor).
- Educated women immigrants often take low paying jobs in factories, agriculture or childcare in order to make ends meet for their families and become the breadwinner of the family for extended periods of time. (New America Media, 2009)
- New America Media Poll researchers found that almost all immigrant women reported increasing their income levels despite facing discrimination and language-differences. (New American Media, 2009)
- Legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. In contrast, deporting undocumented immigrants would cost over $200 billion and worse, the U.S. economy would then suffer an estimated loss of $2.6 trillion over a decade. (Southern Poverty Law Center, Center for American Progress)
- The majority of undocumented immigrant women do not have access to affordable health insurance.
- For over 10 years, the federal government has denied basic health care to low-income immigrants for over 10 years. Despite the fact that immigrants pay taxes and contribute to the prosperity of our country, immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years or less are denied access to federal Medicaid for the most basic preventative health services, including prenatal care (National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health).
- Undocumented immigrants who lack health insurance have coverage only for emergency services, which includes labor and delivery but not prenatal care (National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health).
- Immigrant women are less likely to receive adequate reproductive health care, including cervical and breast cancer screening and treatment, family planning services, HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, accurate sex education and culturally and linguistically competent services.