Immigration is a women’s issue. In particular, it is an issue for mothers to be concerned with, and here’s why.
My family is split between two countries. This was a decision we made six years ago. But as the kids are growing up, it’s getting to a point where we need to think about college. Watching media conversations and commentary about immigration, I see that many think being ‘legally present’ is what America should be aiming for. I absolutely agree. But it’s not the end story.
Visas are not a free pass
Most visa types place an incredible number of often complex conditions on the people holding the visa. For example, legally present visa holders are limited to the number of hours and locations they can work. Looking just at student visa types, students have to maintain a 3.0 grade point average, and can work on campus for a maximum of 20 hours a week. Student visa holders in Colorado must pay international student rates, and can never access in-state tuition even though they pay tax in Colorado on the 20 hours a week they work.
The problem for children
Legally present visa holding dependents who are children of the main visa holder are not allowed to work at all. That means no summer employment or after-school work. As children grow through their teen years, they are therefore unable to experience earning money and moving to independent living. They can’t save for college.
As the immigration application system regularly takes at least a decade or more from entry to the country to gaining a green card, families whose children were 8 years old when they arrived legally are forced to send their kids home if a greencard is not approved in that time. If the parent was not able to access a greencard, their kids then have to start from scratch, even though they were legally present in the US since about 3rd grade, and graduated from a US high school, and yes, even if they have been accepted to a US university. Mothers are forced to say goodbye, even though they’ve met all the rules and paid all the money for individual visas for all the family members throughout that time.
Yes, paying all the money and meeting all the rules is not easy. Visas have to be renewed, and you have to leave the country in order to do so. If you have a family, this is expensive in itself, let alone the thousands of dollars paid to process the applications, and the thousands spent on immigration lawyers along the way.
Being a dependent spouse
Another way immigration is a women’s issue is the lack of independence being a dependent spouse forces upon a legally present visa holder. If her husband is the main visa holder, and decides to leave the country, the wife and any dependent children they have must also leave – they have no choice. Additionally, if the marriage breaks down and they get divorced, the dependent spouse and children must leave the US unless the spouse can prove physical violence has happened.
Immigration reform is about far more than validating people who are here without documentation. If comprehensive immigration reform were a real issue, being dealt with properly, it would address these family-centred issues and not purely be the political football game it has become.
What needs to change
As it stands, I now have two children living in Australia and two here in the US. My children who are here, have been here for five years (since they were 8 and 10 years old). They have lives here, built friendships, obeyed the rules. They deserve to be offered opportunities to stay in the US whether or not I decide to stay under my visa. When they graduate from high school they deserve to access in-state tuition for college, whether or not I decide to stay. When the kids turn 18, they are adults, but they need to be recognized differently in the system because, like children who came here without documentation, my kids did not decide to come to the US. They are here through no fault of their own. They deserve a future where they can work where they want, and be productive members of US society. It is not their fault they are here legally. It is certainly not their fault that the US immigration service is so broken it often takes over a decade to process greencard applications. And it’s definitely not their fault that the current immigration debate does not address their need.
What can you do? I ask you, if you are an American citizen with voting privileges, please contact your representative and stand up for the rights of women, families and children by demanding an amendment to this bill so that it:
a. Treats children who are legally present the same way as those who are present without documentation.
b. Allows women who are dependent visa holders an opportunity to remain in the US if their visa-holding partner leaves the country or divorces them.