|FEATURE | winter 2009
Can Congress reform immigration law to make it more humane?
By Patricia Zavella
When Ana and José García (all names used are pseudonyms) were 18, they could no longer cope with the lack of jobs and crushing poverty in their rural Mexican town, so they decided to migrate with their toddler son to the United States. Since the waiting list in Mexico for family immigrant visas could be as long as 20 years, the couple couldn’t wait for authorization.
Those who migrate without authorization often cannot return home, since it entails a second life-threatening border crossing. Even though the Garcías have made a life here, their sacrifices have often been painful, especially living as unauthorized (undocumented) residents. They must stay in the shadows, knowing they could be deported at any time.
Women migrants such as Ana experience two familiar and difficult scenarios: First, they often have to separate from their children or other close family members when they come to the United States. Secondly, once they live in the U.S. their families are often composed of members with differing legal status, making some vulnerable to deportation and others not.
Mixed-status families are commonplace in the U.S. Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that within the estimated 6.6 million unauthorized migrant families in the U.S. in 2005, 3.1 million of the children were U.S. citizens. The legal privileges afforded to citizens or permanent residents but not to unauthorized family members have significant material consequences, especially in terms of health care and education. Ana García enrolled her second son—a U.S. citizen, because he was born here—in Medi-Cal for his health care, but has to pay out of pocket for the health care of her unauthorized son.
Meanwhile, much-needed immigration reform has been stalled by business interests that exploit immigrant labor. It’s time to make a feminist perspective on that reform known. Instead of ICE raids that destroy the lives of the unauthorized and separate families, we should provide pathways to permanent residence and better access to health care and higher education for immigrants and all their children.
Excerpted from the Winter 2009 issue of Ms. - join the ms. community at www.msmagazine.com.
PATRICIA ZAVELLA is professor and chair of the Latin American and Latino Studies department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.