At this juncture, the prospect of a comprehensive immigration reform bill is rapidly evaporating with the summer; after sweeping through the Senate with a strong majority, immigration legislation is now stalled in the House, which plans on addressing our broken system through a series of smaller bills ranging from enforcement to relief for Dreamers. Of the vast number of undocumented immigrant groups any type of legislation will potentially affect, immigrant women as a whole are, perhaps, arguably one of the more largely overlooked. The plight of immigrant women forced to be separated from their spouses, parents, and children, and the particular hardships they face as wives, daughters, and mothers is often overlooked. Perhaps this is why a recent demonstration by pro-immigrant advocates-the vast majority of which were women-was so newsworthy.
On September 15th, 2013, hundreds of women gathered in Washington, D.C. in an effort to relay their concerns to Congress. Women bravely blocked off an intersection near the Capitol Dome, which ultimately led to their arrests. But this consequence of their disobedience was long anticipated, and their main mission to galvanize the debate on comprehensive reform did not go unnoticed.
The concerns expressed during the protest and the willingness of demonstrators to be arrested for what they passionately believe in will hopefully help to underscore how desperately even some of the current immigration options out there are not really options. For example, although a “hardship waiver” is available to those affected by the ten-year unlawful presence bar, recent data seems to indicate that USCIS is still adhering to a very strict interpretation of what constitutes hardship, which as we all know, is relative and only as strong as the particular adjudicator perceives it to be, despite inherent strengths of the case. For undocumented women, in particular, the calculus in choosing whether to file an affirmative application with immigration-which can be risky-is not determined by personal choice alone. A majority of immigrant women are not only responsible for themselves, but have spouses and children whose lives will be affected by their weighty decisions. A miscalculation or pivotal error in filing can potentially result in detention, removal, and separation from family as long as ten years or more.
If anything, even if immigration reform does not pass this year, the initiative that hundreds of women courageously took on September 15th humanized what pro-immigration groups have long been trying to impress upon our national consciousness–that each and every day that the immigration reform is put on hold, immigrant families of undocumented aliens continue to suffer the fear and anxiety of being separated from their loved ones.