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Maria Bolaños, a Salvadoran woman in Hyattsville, Maryland, called the police out of fear that her partner was going to hurt her. But instead of being protected by the police, she got turned over to immigration. She said, “I feel like I made a mistake calling the police when I was afraid, and worry what will happen to all the women out there when they need help. In my community, people simply do not trust the police, especially after what happened to me. I fear for anyone facing domestic violence, or anyone that witnesses a crime, that they won't call the police for fear of deportation.”

Our nation’s immigration system is broken and needs fixing now. Any solution requires a rationale and humane policy for undocumented immigrants in the United States to be able to apply for legal permanent resident status and citizenship.

Immigrants come to our country today for the same reason immigrants have always come here – for the promise of freedom and a better life that is America.

We have built our country on the idea that we achieve greatness as a nation when all of us have a fair chance to achieve the American Dream. Instead, immigrants often live in the shadows of our economy and our society, subject to exploitation and limited opportunity. In the United States of America, that should be unacceptable.

Think about the effects of our current immigration system on women and children. For women – especially mothers, it can mean being torn away from their children, or subjected to domestic violence, sexual assault and workplace discrimination. We must end that exploitation.

For children, it can mean a lack of hope and opportunity to fulfill their full potential, and contribute to the country that has been their home for most of their lives. While President Obama’s recent Executive Order provides pathways to higher education for immigrant students who dream of a better future, there must also be a pathway to citizenship and full participation in American life.

The current system of deportation means mothers are taken away from their children by splitting up families in pursuit of enforcing a broken immigration system. A mother dropping her child off at school or child care in the morning doesn’t know if she’ll be there to pick her up in the afternoon.

As Maria’s story illustrates, the current system actually increases the threat to women facing domestic violence or sexual assault. Why would a woman call the police to report a crime? Why would she ask the police to come to her home, when she fears the first thing they’re going to do is demand her citizenship documentation or that of her family members? Laws passed in recent years in Arizona, Georgia and other states are a boon for those who would threaten and abuse wives, girlfriends, partners and other women.

These inhumane state laws and our current national immigration system also serve as a disingenuous advantage for unscrupulous employers who use the threat of deportation to violate wage and discrimination laws or permit sexual harassment in the workplace. These wage and hour laws and anti-discrimination laws apply to all workers, with and without documents. If you work, under law, you must get paid and you must not be discriminated against or illegally harassed. But immigrant women are silenced from speaking out, from reporting crimes and violations of workplace rights.

By silencing women, the immigration system permits and condones these attacks. It’s especially bad for the women who face them as individuals, but it’s also bad for all women and their families. We don’t need a legal system that criminalizes women and makes them more vulnerable to harm. We need laws that help make all women and their families successful and more able to live out the American dream.

Immigrant women, men and families need a path to citizenship that recognizes their deep belief in the promise of the American dream and their hard work to achieve it. We all need an immigration system that recognizes the contributions of immigrants to our communities and our economy, reunites families, ensures higher education access for immigrant students, protects the rights and dignity of workers, and integrates immigrants into all aspects of community life. We will all benefit when immigrants in our country can fulfill their potential and achieve the American Dream.


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