Immigration Reform 2013: Women Lead the Charge For Commonsense Reform


Washington, D.C. played host on Monday, March 18, as Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) convened a Senate judiciary hearing on "How Comprehensive Immigration Reform Should Address the Needs of Women and Families," to be followed by a press conference Tuesday at 11:00 am. The events are a part of a week of action organized by We Belong Together, "a campaign of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), and other women’s groups."

NDWA Director Ai-Jen Poo expressed excitement about the momentum behind immigration reform, aiming to appeal to the unprecedented number of women in Congress. "I’m hoping that they’ll champion these issues from the perspective of working moms, who are often able to do their jobs because of domestic workers, and the perspective of caregivers themselves, who have families themselves that they don’t want to be separated from," said Poo.

Mee Moua, president and CEO of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC) in Washington, D.C. points out in clear detail the reason such focus on women and families is merited: "As of November 2012, nearly 4.3 million close family members were waiting in the family visa backlogs. Latino and Asian American families are impacted the most by these long backlogs." During the hearing, which was available via the United States Committee Channel, Moua made the blunt case that "the family network" is how we survive as immigrants, that "family unity" is a core value of "what has been driving our country since its founding days."

This isn't a new concern for immigration reform activists, even if women and children tend to get short shrift in legislation that often focuses more on economic and security concerns. A New America Media survey “provides further evidence that female immigrants come to the United States not necessarily to make more money, but to build better futures for their children and create permanent homes for their families.”  

Senator Sessions, (R-Ala.), the ranking minority member on the Senate Budget Committee and one of those economics/security based reformers, shared with the panelists that the hearing had taught those attending a lot about the human consequences of immigration reform. "Just because you came here illegally does not mean you should be able to bring your aging grandparents here," he noted. He also managed to ask a very serious question about sovereignty: "Should the U.S. have the right to limit who can enter this country legally?"

Moua replied with passion and history, saying "Senator Sessions, coming from the Asian American community, we were the first people to be excluded," referencing the Japanese exclusion act, President Roosevelt’s ignoble Executive Order 9066. (The restriction wasn't lifted until 1860.) "I am well aware of the way that this country has chosen to exercise its ability to limit who can enter this country."

Susan Martin, the Herzberg Professor of International Migration at Georgetown University added that quotas and limits are "a problem for the Congress." Increasing visa numbers could help the backlogs, but a system that results in a backlog of 20-25 years is ridiculous, she said.

I had the opportunity to speak via email with Ana Garcia-Ashley, the first woman of color to lead the national faith-based group Gamaliel. Ana will offer a faith perspective on the need for immigration reform at the press conference, speaking in a lineup that also includes Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the renowned Chicana activist Dolores Huerta, the president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF) and co-founder of United Farm Workers (UFW). Garcia-Ashley tells me that the goals of the press conference are to "bring out the facts of how immigration reform is critical to families. To bring that to bear, it’s not just about politics. This is about families, united and secure in this country."

As a faith leader, Garcia-Ashley supports comprehensive immigration reform because "God calls us to be reminded that we all have our own story of being a stranger in a strange land. [Leviticus]. This is a command from God for people of faith."

The goal is get people moving, she said. "Moving all of our faith communities — across race, across class — to bring their voice to the debate and to put the moral imperative on the issue. As people of faith this is the right thing to do."

I asked Garcia-Ashley how can people get involved to support women and families in immigration.

Her response below:

1. Get informed about how important it is to get comprehensive immigration reform now.

2. Let politicians know to make it a priority and to pass it now.

3. Pick up the phone, fax, send a telegram, stop by the office, send a Facebook message or Tweet — however you engage with your elected officials — and let them know we want comprehensive immigration reform now; for our country, for our families, for our neighbors.

4. Go to and get involved with the Dream fFor All campaign.

Sen. Hirono concluded the day’s hearing with a simple statement: We want to see "the kind of immigration reform that really supports the values that we have in this country and one of those values is family is important." New America Media’s survey "findings suggest that as policymakers consider a new course on immigration and immigrant integration, their strongest allies may be the fiercely focused women motivated by their love of family to make America their home." 

I couldn’t agree more.

A thank you has been rightfully offered to Senator Hirono for convening this hearing. If you want to say thank you to the senator for her efforts, you can do so here. Full testimonies of the hearing panelists are available here.