Feminization of Immigration


My mother used to say that children take you places you didn’t know you wanted to go. For me, it’s required classes. Who knew political policy could be so enthralling?

This semester, one in particular has kept my head buried in immigration policy papers and breaking news from the border. Riveting! (Seriously!) So just imagine my joy when a Ms. article in the winter issue (finally there’s a summary on the website) linked my two great loves: women’s rights and migrant policy.

According to the article by Patricia Zavella, the chair of the Latin American and Latino studies department at the University of California Santa Cruz, migration policy has recently been seen as a woman’s issue because of the displacement and separation of families—and the inherent link, she says, between women and family life.

When Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, it created a legalization program and let 2.3 million Mexican workers who had all been working in the US for at least 4 years gain resident status. However, bills passed during the 1990s—the North American Free Trade Agreement, for one—didn’t help slow the steady migration over the border.

“Immigration overall from Mexico has been spurred by the steep decline in the price of corn after the passage of NAFTA, which forced Mexican farmers to compete with subsidized U.S.-grown corn and left them unable to profit from their small plots of land.”

More men and women moved to the U.S. to earn livings, sending money back to support their families. But after the 1986 ‘amnesty,’ when millions had the option of staying in the country, families that were left behind began coming any way they could. Additionally, more women began leaving to get jobs of their own.

“Increasingly, immigration has been recognized as a front-burner feminist issue, not just because of family-wrenching moments… but due to the fact that more women than before are migrating to the U.S., especially from Mexico.” At this point, women make up nearly half of all authorized migrants, and about a third of the unauthorized Mexican workers in the country.

Basically, we took their jobs, and then were surprised to find that the workers, and the women, followed.

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