When you think of immigrants, who do you see?
Most people visualize men, predominately Latino men. Not many individuals see the images I see: women, mothers, sisters, and daughters, many of whom are Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI).
Women are the face of immigration today, and make up 52 percent of the overall immigration population in the United States. Yet, our immigration laws and policies turn a blind eye to the needs of women and families. It is time we recognize the value and contribution that immigrant women make to this country—especially AAPI women—and the enormous stakes they have as we debate how to fix our immigration system.
Immigrant women are the backbone of their families—yet our outdated immigration laws separate families, forcing many women to wait years to be reunited with their children. Family-based visa backlogs disproportionately affect the AAPI community, with our communities suffering some of the longest separations from their families, sometimes as long as 23 years. AAPI women bear the brunt of this burden, given that about 53 percent of Asian immigrants are women, predominantly from Japan, Philippines and Thailand.
Families do not have to be torn apart by our broken immigration system. We need to reduce the backlogs by increasing the number of visas and shortening the wait time. Judicial discretion to review individual cases of families or children threatened by pending separation would assist families hoping for reconsideration of their cases.
Now is the time for action. Polling the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) conducted with the National Asian American Survey found that AAPI women overwhelmingly (59 percent) support a roadmap to citizenship for all. Perhaps these numbers are not surprising because AAPI women take care of their own: More than 5 million women in this country are undocumented, and 1.5 million undocumented immigrants are AAPIs. The barriers these women face—whether in employment, education and access to health care and being able to provide for their families—are something felt every day. A road-map to citizenship should be accessible to poor and low-income immigrants, including AAPIs with limited English proficiency.
Our immigration system should be inclusive to all immigrants, not just those who qualify for high-skilled visas. Our system should recognize all family units, such as same sex partners, siblings and workers of all skill levels.
Women know the importance of coming together, yet sometimes forget they are significant. It is a struggle, and an accomplishment, to raise a family and to take care of the health needs of loved ones.
None of us would be where we are today without the help and support of the women in our lives—our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends. My parents brought me to this country because they knew a first-born Chinese girl would have more opportunities in the United States than in our homeland.
It is time we extend the opportunity afforded to us to other immigrants. We all must honor and celebrate our unique commitment to protecting families, and give equal opportunities and respect to women and girls.
Many AAPI immigrants come to this country to share in this commitment. That’s why we need an immigration process that reflects this commitment and provides freedom and opportunity to everyone, especially mothers, daughters and families.
As Americans, we believe that families should stick together, that we should look out for each other, and that hard work should be rewarded. It’s not about what you look like or where you were born that makes you American—it’s how you live your life and what you do that defines you here in this country. That’s why all Americans, including the women in our lives, deserve an immigration system that works for everyone.
Miriam Yeung is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)—the only national Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women’s multi-issue advocacy organization in the United States. For more information about NAPAWF’s immigration principles, please visit www.napawf.org.