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    The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) disproportionately excluded women. Women had a significantly harder time providing the necessary documents for legalization under IRCA. A study by the Urban Institute and Rand Corporation attributed this to the facts that many women are domestic workers who lack formal documents, and that many women have their documents in their husband’s names.1 The success of immigration reform for women depends on learning from the mistakes of the past.

    95% of domestic workers nationwide are women. In major cities, more than three-fourths of domestic workers are foreign born. And in New York, almost the entire population of domestic workers is made up of immigrant women.2 Yet many past immigration reform proposals excluded domestic workers who could not provide proof of employment.

    Immigrant women fuel economic growth. They account for 40% of all immigrant business owners, often while serving as the primary caregivers within their families. They are also more likely to start businesses than their U.S. born counterparts.3 Women entrepreneurs have created scores of new jobs, helped stabilize neighborhoods, and built strong families.

    Decades-long backlogs in the family-based immigration system hurt women more than men. 70% of all immigrant women attain legal status through family-based visas, compared to 61% of men. As a result, women wait longer to enter the United States. While they wait in their home countries they are separated from their families.4 Currently, over 4 million families are stuck in the backlog with wait times over 6 years for unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens and over 10 years for some unmarried adult children of legal permanent residents.5 Failure to reduce backlogs, and expansion of the employment-based system at the expense of the family-based system, will both disproportionately disadvantage women.

    Employment-based visas favor men over women by nearly a four-to-one margin. The employment-based visa system places a premium on male-dominated fields like engineering and computer science. As a result, nearly three out of four principal employment-based visas go to men, while only one in four goes to women.6

    This disparity persists despite the fact that immigrant women are nearly as likely to have bachelor’s degrees as immigrant men. Just over one-quarter (26.4%) of immigrant women had a bachelor’s degree or more education in 2008, compared to 27.9% of immigrant men.7 Future flows programs must provide visa opportunities in professions commonly held by women so that women can migrate safely and lawfully to meet the demands of our labor market.

    The vast majority of women admitted through the employment-based visa system come in as dependents of their spouses and are unable to legally work. Forcing women to be dependent on their spouses significantly raises their risk of abuse. Studies have found that immigrants with stable immigration status are more than twice as likely to call police for help in domestic violence cases as immigrants with temporary immigration status.8 Allowing derivative beneficiaries of employment-based visas to work is an essential component in providing full protections to women. New America Media found that only 13 % of immigrant women work as professionals in the United States, even though 32 % of them worked as such in their home country.9 The study concludes, “Women may well be putting devotion to the well-being of their families ahead of personal pride in choosing the journey to America.”10 These women could be contributing to the economy if given the work authorization and family support necessary to do so.

    Immigrant women are the primary drivers of integration for the entire family, with 58% of immigrant women surveyed by New America Media stating they felt the strongest in their family about becoming an American citizen.11 Immigrant women help their families to achieve full participation in society by pushing them to naturalize, learn English, and take on many civic responsibilities.

    A higher share of women who are undocumented immigrants say they are not working because they are raising children at home—29%, compared with 16% of other immigrants and 8% of U.S.-born women.12 Work as a homemaker is a critical contribution to the well-being of children and communities and must count as such for the purposes of legalization and eligibility for citizenship.



    Baker, Susan Gonzalez.The Cautious Welcome: The Legalization Programs of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press and the Rand Corporation (1990) at 137-8. See also Baker 1997 "The 'Amnesty Aftermath: Current Policy Issues Stemming from the Legalization Programs of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act," International Migration Review, 31(l):5-27.
    National Domestic Workers Alliance, Home Economics Report, based on American Community Survey, 2005-2009 5-year
    3 Pearce S, Clifford E, Tandon R, Our American Immigrant Entrepreneurs. Immigration Policy Center, December 2011
    4 Kelly Jefferys, DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, Characteristic of Employment--Sponsored Legal Permanent Residents:
    2004 (October 2005)
    5 Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Family-Based Immigration FAQ available at http://lirs.org/wp- content/uploads/2013/07/LIRS-Family-FAQ-7.17.13.pdf
    Immigration Policy Center. Immigrant Women in the United States: A Portrait of Demographic Diversity.available
    8 Forty-three percent of immigrants with stable permanent immigration status called police for help in domestic violence cases compared to 21 % among women with temporary status. This rate dropped further to 18.8% if the battered immigrant was undocumented. Ammar, N. et al., “Calls to Police and Police Response: A CaseStudy From the Latina Immigrant Women,” 7 U.S. J. OF INT’L POLICE SCI. & MGM’T 230 at 236 (2005)
    9 New America Media, Women Immigrants: Stewards of the 21st Century Family (Feb. 2009) available at http://media.namx.org/images/communications/immwomenexecsummary.pdf
    10 Id.
    11 Id.
    12 Id.