Community leaders in the United States increasingly recognize the contributions of immigrants to the growth of state and local economies, in both traditional and new immigrant destinations, as immigrants help revitalize declining communities and ailing economies. In recognition of these contributions, states and cities across the country are creating welcoming initiatives that seek to integrate and maximize the contributions of immigrant workers and entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, without an emphasis on legal status. On a parallel track in terms of initiatives that facilitate the integration of foreign-born arrivals, some states offer driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. Many more states are considering it. This makes sense given that the United States is among the top motor-vehicle dependent countries in the world. States that do not offer driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants will limit the contributions that immigrant communities as a whole can potentially make, are likely to face negative economic and public safety consequences, and tend to fail in attempts to use such restrictive state-level policies to reduce the presence of unauthorized immigrants.
This special report by Cecilia Menjívar and Olivia Salcido for the Immigration Policy Center looks at immigration law, which on its face appears gender neutral, but actually contains gender biases that create barriers for many women trying to gain legalization within the current immigration system. These inequalities appear across immigration law, and even as new laws are put into place, stereotypes and assumptions remain unchallenged. Ironically, even laws written specifically to protect women, such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), continue to play out in practice along gender-biased lines.
As immigration reform is being debated, our findings point to the need that any pathway to citizenship and integration be open, affordable, and accessible to all immigrant women, including those whose work is unpaid, and those employed in the informal economy. In order for this to occur, there should be more and stronger open channels for women to access the legalization process without having to rely on a principal visa holder to petition on their behalf.
The most concrete proposals for immigration reform thus far in 2013 include earned legalization with a path to U.S. citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States. This is a process that essentially permits unauthorized immigrants to come forward and receive a provisional legal status that—after paying taxes, proving they understand English and civics, passing all criminal and other background checks, and showing they are committed to the United States—allows them to become lawful permanent residents (LPRs). From there, like other LPRs before them, they will have to decide whether or not to make the final commitment to their adopted country by becoming American citizens. Some critics of the new proposals argue that citizenship is too good for unauthorized immigrants, or that legal status is really all they need to thrive in this country. But that kind of short-sighted thinking ignores some very important facts: more than half a century ago the U.S. finally abandoned the idea that there should be a second-class status for any group by denying them citizenship and, in fact, today the vast majority of Americans support a path to citizenship.
The integration of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants now living in the United States into full citizenship is not only good for those individuals, but the country as a whole. Citizenship, and the quest for citizenship, facilitates integration in myriad ways that legal status alone does not. From the learning of English and U.S. civics to the earning of higher incomes, serving jury duty, and voting in elections, citizens and would-be citizens benefit from a deeper form of incorporation into U.S. society than do legal immigrants who have no hope of ever applying for naturalization.Read more...
The data analyzed in IPC's latest Special Report, Economic Progress via Legalization, indicates that unauthorized immigrants who gained legal status in the 1980s through the legalization provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) experienced clear improvement in their socioeconomic situation. Between 1990 and 2006, the educational attainment of IRCA immigrants increased substantially, their poverty rates fell dramatically, and their home ownership rates improved tremendously. Moreover, their real wages rose, many of them moved into managerial positions, and the vast majority did not depend upon public assistance. The findings presented in this report support the notion that legalization of unauthorized immigrants can play a role in promoting economic growth and lessening socioeconomic disparities. Reforming our immigration system is not an obstacle to getting our economy back on track—it is part of the solution.
Anyone who has ever attended a naturalization ceremony cannot help but be moved by the power of the moment. The participants enter as men, women, and children of diverse countries, but leave the room as citizens of one—the United States. For many, the path to that naturalization ceremony has been long and arduous, irrespective of whether they entered the United States as wealthy entrepreneurs or as refugees with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The process of obtaining lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, and ultimately U.S. citizenship, is often daunting. A new country, new rules, high costs, and little targeted support for new immigrants makes what should be a journey of exploration and opportunity one that may be frustrating and lonely. Consequently, in order to focus on ways to improve the naturalization process itself, we must take a step back and consider the nature of immigrant integration in the United States. The better our integration policies—and the sooner they begin—the more likely we are to improve the rate of naturalization.
How U.S. Integration Policy Stacks Up Against Other Countries
Integration is an often overlooked but key component of U.S. immigration policy. Successful integration of immigrants fuels their success, strengthens communities, and builds bridges between newcomers and other community members. Time and again, the influx of immigrants into a community has been shown to reverse economic decline and breathe new life into urban areas, small towns, and rural communities. Moreover, integration can be a key to entrepreneurship and future economic growth. For example, research by Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander found that nations which focus more on immigrant integration have higher levels of economic competitiveness, are more innovative, and have higher rates of entrepreneurship. Understanding how federal and state laws facilitate or hinder integration is therefore an important component of setting integration policy.Read more...
While immigrant communities across the nation endure the long wait for immigration reform, there are roughly 19 million immigrant women and girls currently in the U.S. Immigrant women, particularly the undocumented, are often more vulnerable than their male counterparts, lack the same economic opportunities, and experience exploitation while crossing the border, while working and even in their own homes. In short, immigrant women have become the silent victims of a broken immigration system.
In this IPC report, immigration attorney Kavitha Sreeharsha lays out the economic and social disparities, legal barriers to current immigration law and the many dangers hard-working immigrant women are forced to endure.
The report also explores how women are distinctly harmed by heightened enforcement of immigration laws. Abusers, traffickers, and exploitative employers keep immigrant women from seeking local law-enforcement protection by convincing them that police officers are working in partnership with DHS and will deport victims instead of protecting them. Essentially, these enforcement measures increase the likelihood of abuse and assault against immigrant women by cutting them off from help and giving their perpetrators a powerful tool to silence their victims and escape prosecution.
Ultimately, the author concludes, only through a comprehensive immigration reform package—one that includes a path to legalization that values the contributions immigrant woman make as mothers, wives and workers—can the U.S. reconcile these disparities.
While visiting Phoenix, AZ in late January with a group of evangelical leaders who were in the border region to learn more about immigration, I met an immigrant family struggling to survive in a difficult economy. The father was employed as a mechanic but recently lost his job and lived in constant fear of being separated from his two young children who are U.S. citizens. This man considered moving his family back to Mexico because life was so hard in Phoenix, but was concerned about his two young children who would go back to a country they never knew. They were generous in feeding a group of American visitors delicious homemade Mexican food, as their children ran around the yard, yelling at each other in a mix of Spanish and English. During the same visit, my colleague met an undocumented immigrant woman named Maria whose son was killed by a drunk driver. She cannot press charges, however, because of her undocumented status.Read more...
Years before the U.S. Supreme Court ended racial segregation in U.S. schools with Brown v. Board of Education, a federal circuit court in California ruled that segregation of school children was unconstitutional—except this case involved the segregation of Mexican American school children. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reached this historic decision in the case of Mendez v. Westminster in 1947—seven years before Brown. Historic in its own right, Mendez was critical to the strategic choices and legal analysis used in arguing Brown and in shaping the ideas of a young NAACP attorney, Thurgood Marshall. Moreover, the Mendez case—which originated with LULAC but benefited from the participation of the NAACP—also symbolized the important crossover between different ethnic and racial groups who came together to argue in favor of desegregation.
From a legal perspective, Mendez v. Westminster was the first case to hold that school segregation itself is unconstitutional and violates the 14th Amendment. Prior to the Mendez decision, some courts, in cases mainly filed by the NAACP, held that segregated schools attended by African American children violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause because they were inferior in resources and quality, not because they were segregated. Read more...
Most Americans want immigrants to fully integrate in the U.S., and most immigrants want to be Americans and fully participate in social and civic life. We can expect naturalization and integration programs to be an important part of comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrant integration benefits everyone because it enables immigrants to realize their full potential, contribute more to the U.S. economy, and develop deeper community ties. While the United States encourages legal permanent residents to become citizens, there is no national strategy for facilitating integration and insufficient infrastructure to facilitate a smooth transition from immigrant to citizen. Failure to address this problem in the context of comprehensive immigration reform could lead to endless delays for the millions who currently seek services from USCIS and the millions more who will become part of the applicant pool following legalization.