Over the past decade, migration researchers have noted that the percentage of undocumented immigrants who are women is on the rise. Whereas a generation ago men accounted for a super-majority of immigrants, women may now account for nearly 50% of the immigrant population in the U.S.The reasons why women are immigrating are changing, too. Previously, most women immigrated as dependents, meaning they came to the U.S. to reunite with their breadwinning husbands or fathers. Today, an increasingly large number of women are migrating independently in order to pursue economic opportunities themselves. Fortunately for them, our economy’s long-established demand for male workers in agriculture, construction, and landscaping is now accompanied by a substantial number of opportunities for females in domestic and service-related industries.Interestingly, immigrant women tend to remit a larger portion of their earnings to their countries of origin than do men. The money these women send back is primarily used for household purposes—to buy necessities such as groceries, medicine, or clothing. Contrastingly, the money men remit is more likely to be used for “investment” purposes, such as purchasing land or farm machinery.
While research suggests that most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. come here for economic reasons, the trends described above lead me to believe that female immigrants may constitute a much more impoverished group than their male counterparts. Whereas many men seem to head north to pad the lining of their (admittedly meager) savings, more women appear to migrate out of desperation to feed their families. Abandoned, widowed, or forgotten by the fathers of their children, these women take the initiative to travel thousands of miles, often unaccompanied, to an unfamiliar land, where they will likely work grueling hours and for less than a living wage. Grandmothers and aunts care for their children while they are away.
Female immigrants face unique challenges. In the first place, because most immigrant women work in unregulated domestic- and service-related industries (unregulated = little recourse through the legal system), immigrant women are placed at a greater risk of exploitation in the sense of poor working conditions, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Moreover, similar to U.S.-born women in the labor force, immigrant women face gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and disparity of pay. For these reasons, and many others not contemplated here, the plight of immigrant women merits special attention.
Over the past 3+ years of my participation in the Bloggernacle, I’ve engaged in quite a few discussions about undocumented immigration. These discussions are often lively, and unfortunately tend to fall into similar argumentative patterns. Someone will infer something not-so-nice about unauthorized immigrants, others counter with personal anecdotes, someone else pulls out the 12th Article of Faith (“obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law”), and so forth, and so on. I’m wondering if today we can develop a different discussion about undocumented immigration—one focused particularly on the existence, condition, and needs of undocumented immigrant women in the LDS Church.
A few discussion starting points I would like to throw out there:
Given that women tend to be baptized at greater rates than men, and tend to be more active than men after baptism, what are the implications of a large population of female immigrants (who are increasingly likely to be unaccompanied and impoverished) attending the LDS church? What are the implications re: foreign language units and minimum numerical requirements for priesthood holders?
How should priesthood leaders approach welfare requests that, in many cases, may be remitted to a 3rd party in a foreign country? Should the fact that Hermana Miranda’s children live in Oaxaca, instead of West Salt Lake, even matter at all?
What can we do, as Sisters (and Brothers) in Zion, to alleviate some of the burdens of the undocumented women in our wards and stakes?
*We can all agree that undocumented immigration is not a good thing. Our immigration laws are broken and ineffective. Despite all of the publicity about legislative reform over the past two summers, it’s not likely that the immigration system will be repaired any time soon. Let’s please not turn this into another tired debate on legislative reform.
** The term “illegal alien” is pejorative, racist, dehumanizing, and harmful, in that it serves as a rhetorical device that intellectually legitimizes the mistreatment of immigrants. Saying the “I” word around me is akin to using a racial slur. Appropriate terms include undocumented, unauthorized, unregulated, or just plain old immigrant.