public-policy article

Member Highlight: YWCA No Hate, No Fear: Ensuring Safety and Opportunity for Immigrant Women.

May 9, 2019

In April, YWCA celebrated its 13th annual Stand Against Racism, an action campaign that “highlights the injustices faced by immigrant communities,” on Capitol Hill by hosting a policy briefing. Panelists ranged from former members of the Obama administration to local attorneys, and shared valuable insights and everyday stories that solidified the need for a comprehensive look into what systemic factors leave immigrant women in unsafe conditions.

This discussion included moderator Maria Cardona of the Dewey Square Group and CNN, Juliet Choi, a Partner at the VENG Group, Archi Pyati, Chief of Policy at the Tahirih Justice Center, Mónica Ramirez, the Gender Justice Campaigns Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and President of Justice for Migrant Women, Jennifer Rosario-Garcia, a Legal Advocate at the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, and Elyse Szurgot, the Director of Violence Intervention and Prevention Program at YWCA of Greater Harrisburg.

Much of the initial conversation centered around the intersectional nature of being an immigrant woman, and what that means in terms of sexual and economic exploitation, domestic violence, and how the overall climate around immigration impacts immigrant women. This was coupled with federal policy recommendations that would combat against an immigrant woman’s increased susceptibility to violence.

Sexual and Economic Exploitation

Immigrant women often work in professions like farm and domestic work that require long hours with minimal pay. Additionally, there are legal loopholes that ensure women in these fields are not protected against sexual harassment. This creates a situation where women are susceptible to sexual violence and exploitation by coworkers or employers, but, as Mónica Ramirez noted, women who speak out are often retaliated against and denied pay for past work, creating a situation where “poverty chains them to their job.”

To combat against this situation, YWCA recommends the passage of the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act (H.R. 2148/S. 1082), as well as a federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. These solutions would close the legal loopholes that fail to protect domestic workers against sexual exploitation.

Domestic Violence

Immigrant women are also susceptible to intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic abuse. Archi Pyati noted that, often times, abusers use immigration status as a tool of violence, telling women that they cannot call authorities because they will protect a citizen over a non-citizen. Additionally, when women do not speak English, they may not be able to call authorities and, if they do, they may face discrimination.

To ensure immigrant women have more protection under the law, the YWCA supports the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (H.R. 1585), and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA). This would ensure that immigrant survivors of gender-based violence have access to safety services, healthcare, and critical assistance.

Political Climate

Juliet Choi noted that “leadership, policy, and transparency” are essential, because the consequences of immigration policy, intended or not, can be “breathtaking.” She highlighted that El Salvador is first in the world when it comes to homicides against women, and that in many countries, women face an increased likelihood of gender-based violence. However, in the U.S. we’ve seen a 60% reduction in refugee admissions, leaving women with the choice to either enter illegally or face violence in their home countries.

The YWCA supports pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, as well as those who risk the loss of Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. This includes The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6), and The Dream Act of 2019 (S. 874).

Additionally, an end to family separation, and the reunification of families who have already been separated is integral. The YWCA has called for congressional oversight of the administration’s zero tolerance policy to protect immigrant women, children, and families fleeing violence, as well as a comprehensive treatment plan for to address the long-term trauma of family separation.

For more information about Stand Against Racism, including how to host or find an event, check out YWCA’s website.