woman migrant workers

Migrants Day 2021: How the pandemic disproportionately impacted women migrant workers 

International Migrant Day was established in 2000 by the UN General Assembly (UNGA. Taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, 18 December was proclaimed International Migrants Day. 

The day was selected to mark the anniversary of the 1990 adoption by UNGA of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

This day is seen as an opportunity to recognize the contributions made by millions of migrants, such as their work for the economies of their home countries and host. It is also a day to promote and advocate for migrant human rights.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the critical issues facing migrant workers and women migrant workers have been disproportionately affected.  The latest data estimates the number of international migrant workers is 169 million, 70 million of whom are women. 

“COVID-19-related border closures and the attendant economic crisis have led to extensive job losses for migrant workers globally, with a disproportionate impact on women, who have even more limited income security and social protection and who continue to face wage discrimination,” said António Vitorino, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration and Coordinator of the UN Network on Migration.

According to a report by the International Labor Organization, many women migrant workers have even more limited income security and social protection than the average worker. This is due to various factors including: the persistent gender wage gap and because women migrant workers disproportionately work in more precarious, insecure and informal employment. Women are also more likely to experience violence at the workplace, the report states. 

This year’s International Migrant Day centers around the theme of “Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility.” 

The UN writes: 

Migrants contribute with their knowledge, networks, and skills to build stronger, more resilient communities. The global social and economic landscape can be shaped through impactful decisions to address the challenges and opportunities presented by global mobility and people on the move.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) offers the opportunity and guidance to actualize human mobility and seize the opportunities it presents.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has assisted millions of migrants since it emerged 70 years ago to assist the vast number of Europeans displaced by the Second World War and continues to lead the way in promoting a humane and orderly management of migration for the benefit of all, including the communities of origin, transit and destination.

With this year’s theme, the UN is sharing stories from migrant workers to amplify their voices. While there is much work to be done to address and rectify the issues facing migrant women workers, sharing their stories and advocating for their rights is a first step toward advancing the cause. 

President Biden to propose immigration reform bill that will legalize 11 million

During his first days in office, President Joe Biden’s first agenda is to address the long-elusive goal of immigration reform with a groundbreaking legislative package and immigration bill that will grant a quicker pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country without legal status.

immigration reform

Photo by Metin Ozer on Unsplash

Biden’s immigration reform bill: “Restoring humanity to our immigration system”

On Saturday, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, sent a memo to the administration’s senior staff that said the new president’s agenda includes “the immigration bill he will send to Congress on his first day in office,” which Klain asserted would “restore humanity to our immigration system.”

Biden’s proposal lays out what would be the most sweeping and comprehensive immigration reform package since President Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which granted legal status to 3 million people who were in the country without documentation.

In an interview with Univision,  VP Kamala Harris gave a preview of the bill’s provisions. The new immigration bill will provide shorter pathways to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people, including automatic green cards for immigrants with temporary protected status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Wait times for U.S. citizenship would also decrease from 13 to eight years under this bill, and there would be an increase in the number of immigration judges to relieve backlog in cases.

This bill differs from many previous immigration bills passed under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The key difference being that the proposed legislation “would not contain any provisions directly linking an expansion of immigration with stepped-up enforcement and security measures,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who has been consulted on the proposal by Biden staffers.

“This notion concerning immigration enforcement and giving Republicans everything they kept asking for … was flawed from the beginning,” she said.

Hincapié added Biden’s team would be able to bypass legislation to quickly make a number of administrative changes.

She expects him to announce several executive actions that would expand DACA, overturn Trump’s 2017 travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries and rescind Trump’s public charge rule, which allowed authorities to deny green cards to immigrants who use food stamps or other public benefits.

Setting a new tone: “It’s not going to be about walls.”

Under Biden’s immigration bill, immigrants would become eligible for legal permanent residence after five years and for U.S. citizenship after an additional three years — a faster path to citizenship than in previous immigration bills.

“I think this bill is going to lay an important marker in our country’s history,” said Lorella Praeli, an immigrant and longtime activist who has been talking with Biden’s staff, noting that the measure “will not seek to trade immigration relief for enforcement, and that’s huge.”

Praeli, president of Community Change Action, a progressive group based in Washington that advocates for immigrants, described the bill as “an important opening act.”

“If there is a silver lining to the Trump era, it’s that it should now be clear to everyone that our system needs a massive overhaul and we can no longer lead with detention and deportation,” she said.

You might be interested: “Kids in Cages” Warehouse detention center shuts down for renovations

On the topic of undocumented essential workers, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said “It’s time for essential workers to no longer be treated as disposable, but to be celebrated and welcomed as American citizens. If your labor feeds, builds and cares for our nation, you have earned the right to stay here with full legal protection, free from fear of deportation.”

Additionally, Leon Rodriguez, who was director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2014 to 2017, said that, “the public attitude toward immigration enforcement is at a different place in 2021 than it was at any point prior to the Trump administration. I think there just has been a lot of things about how immigration enforcement was executed under the Trump administration that didn’t sit right with a lot of Americans.”

However, he believes Biden’s overall approach will set an entirely different tone in the conversation of immigration reform in America. He sees a more hopeful, positive era ahead.

“It’s not going to be about walls and keeping people in Mexico,” he said.

While the ambitious bill is a great first step for the new administration, the bill will likely face months of political pushback on Capitol Hill by conservative voters, even with Democrats holding the White House and slender majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Still, if the broader bill were to die or take too long to pass, there are alternate venues Democratic leadership can take to legalize a substantial group of people — specifically the estimated 5 million essential workers now in the country without legal status.

One possible alternative would be to take advantage of COVID relief measures. Democratic leadership could decide to include measures offering legal status to essential workers via a process known as budget reconciliation. This process would only need 51 votes to pass the Senate.

“We are talking about potentially 5 million workers who have put their own lives on the line as essential workers,” Praeli said. “You cannot be essential and deportable.”

“Kids in Cages” Warehouse detention center shuts down for renovations

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announces shut down of South-Texas “Ursula” warehouse detention center. The facility gained national attention when media coverage exposed the overcrowded, unsafe living conditions and showed “kids in cages” back in 2018. CBP officials say the facility will be closed for renovations until 2022. The renovations plan to redesign the facility and remove the chain-link partitions to provide more humane living conditions. 

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

Warehouse detention center shuts down

Anyone who has been paying attention to immigration reform issues over the past few years will be familiar with the term “kids in cages” and the deplorable living conditions faced by migrants who have been detained for prolonged periods in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The “Ursula” warehouse facility in South-Texas became infamous when new coverage revealed the harsh, dehumanizing living conditions migrants faced within the facility. Freezing, overcrowded, and filthy the facility packed immigrants–a vast majority of which were young children separated from family–into small chain-link enclosures. 

“Children were in freezing, packed cages and sleeping on concrete,” said Hope Frye in an article with the New York Times. As a lawyer who oversaw a visiting team of inspectors at the Ursula facility, she witnessed first-hand the terrible and upsetting conditions. “It was bone-chilling. Young children were violently ill, separated from their family.” 

Photo by Miko Guziuk on Unsplash

Since then, efforts have been made to put an end to the inhumane treatment of immigrants in these facilities. These renovations are only the first step toward reform at the border. 

“The new design will allow for updated accommodations, which will greatly improve the operating efficiency of the center as well as the welfare of individuals being processed,” Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, said in an article with The Washington Post.

The renovation, which will be paid for by funds allocated by Congress, will include room partitions that will “afford modest housing accommodations” as well as updating processing areas and providing a recreational area for children. 

At its peak, the center housed over 2,000 immigrants, many being young women and children. The renovated center will significantly lower those numbers, aiming to provide space for 1,100 individuals. 

Ursula’s history and origins

The Ursula center was first opened in 2014 during the Obama administration as a response to a surge of Central American immigrants arriving at the border in search of asylum. At the time, the facility was a welcomed improvement to the previous cramped locations. During the 2014 surge, the bare-bones facilities were not equipped to handle the large influx of individuals, leaving many families out in the heat for hours in exteriors locations. The Ursula warehouse was acquired to remedy this and provide an indoor, climate-controlled environment.  

In 2014, migrants were processed and released quickly from the facilities so the population never grew as overcrowded and unsafe as it has in recent years. However, after the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration the facility soon became overpopulated as migrants were detained for periods of weeks and months on end in unsafe conditions. 

This past year, due to the pandemic, President Trump invoked emergency powers under public health laws to halt most immigration. As such, the facility has been unused since March with thousands of immigrants turned back to Mexico. 

In the fight for immigration reform and as an effort to offer protection to young immigrants, a federal judge ordered last week for the Trump administration to stop expelling young people who arrive on their own looking for asylum in the U.S. 

The future of immigration reform 

While the news of the Ursula facility renovations is welcomed news to immigrant advocates, this is only the first step toward immigration reform at the border. Advocates cautioned that more fundamental changes will be necessary to ensure that migrants are no longer stranded in detention centers for prolonged periods of time. 

“This feels a little bit like window dressing. It is overdue from the perspective that no one should be housed in cages,” said Michael Bochenek, senior counsel in the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, in an article with the New York Times. 

“The more fundamental shift that needs to happen is rigorous application of federal law and an agency standard that calls for expeditious transfer to more suitable arrangements for children and families,” Mr. Bochenek continued. “Nobody was really looking out for the kids. All they had were mats and foil blankets,” he said, describing the conditions he witnessed when visiting the warehouse as part of a monitoring team in 2018. “We talked to teenage girls caring for toddlers in cages. We looked over and saw a boy 7 or 9 years old. The kid was beside himself in tears. He was in deep distress and there were no adults anywhere nearby to find out what was wrong.”

You might be interested: November 1 National Day of Remembrance of Latinxs killed by Covid-19

Latinxs children detention centers

Protests in Elizabeth, NJ about immigrant children detention. Photo credit Chris Boese – Unsplash.com

It’s clear that the current system needs to be reformed. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to do his part to reverse the Trump administration’s approach to immigration and border control. He plans to cut off funds to the expanded border wall and restore the process for welcoming asylum applicants into the country while their cases are in progress. 

Renovations to the Ursula detention center facility are estimated to last 18 months, which will leave border agents without a large-volume facility if a new immigration surge occurs. Last month, over 69,000 migrants were taken into custody along the southern border. Most have been processed at smaller, less-crowded facilities. Still, this 21 percent increase in migrants since September suggests a growing increase in immigration as many individuals are fleeing Central America after recent hurricane devastation, economic distress, and coronavirus related hardships.

120 days the movie

Family separation, the dramatic decision of undocumented immigrants in film (video)

Undocumented immigratns and President Obama

Thousands of undocumented immigrants are waiting for their time to become Americans.

Every day, thousands of undocumented immigrants live with the fear of deportation, not knowing what could happen to them, their families,  their jobs  and their future at the end of that day. In an hostile immigrant environment fired up by the 2016 presidential campaign, immigrant hard-working families face the dramatic decision of family separation with “voluntary deportation.”

Gravitas Ventures has picked up worldwide VOD & broadcast rights to Ted Roach’s 120 Days: Undocumented in America, the award-winning documentary that chronicles one immigrant’s struggle to keep his family together after an immigration judge orders him to leave the U.S. “voluntarily” within 120 days to avoid an official deportation.

The politically-timely documentary is slated for a VOD release on October 2nd on many platforms, including iTunes (available for pre-orders now), AT&T, Amazon, Cablevision, Comcast, Google Play, In-Demand, DirecTV, DISH Network, PlayStation®, Rogers (Canada), TWC, VUDU, U-verse, and Xbox.

Voluntary deportation

Voluntary deportation is a hard decision for families of undocumented immigrants

The Immigration debate gets personal in this documentary from filmmaker, Ted Roach. Family man Miguel Cortes was detected as an undocumented immigrant at a traffic stop after living in the U.S. under the radar for over a decade. After receiving the judge’s “voluntary departure” order, Miguel, his wife and two daughters have four months to decide if they will send Miguel back alone, or change their names and disappear back into another American city to keep their family together. The film crew joined the Cortes family from the first day in court through Miguel’s last official day in the United States, revealing a hidden side of an undocumented society that few Americans ever get to see.

The documentary had its North American premiere at the Austin Film Festival and was selected for over 20 other festivals, winning 10 awards and four nominations along the way. The upcoming D.C. premiere will take place the weekend of October 22-25, with featured screenings in the Greater Washington Immigration Film Festival and American University’s Human Rights Film Series. The film will also screen at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival.

 

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