The U.S. Citizenship Process is Hurting Disadvantaged Women

immigration citizenship

Why did the woman take birth control before she crossed the border?

Because she knew she was going to be raped.

Migrants are an extremely vulnerable group, and the most vulnerable among them are women and girls. Female migrants attempting to cross the border into the U.S. from Mexico take contraceptive pills and yet do not plan on having sex — they are in fact doing what little they can to limit collateral damage to the anticipated rape of their bodies. About 60 percent of women migrants are victims of sexual abuse as they make their way across the Mexico/U.S. border in search of more livable lives than those they are trying to leave behind.

The perpetrators are U.S. Border Patrol Agents — 20 have been identified as culprits over the last six years — coyote guides or other immigrants. Few, if any, women report it. Many are concerned that reporting these heinous crimes against them will count against their citizenship applications or that they will be deported. These women have few rights and have essentially zero chance of getting legal citizenship in the U.S.

The Ugly Side of Immigration

What many of us seem to forget is that the bureaucratic systems and institutions that form our society and government as we know it have real effects and consequences on people’s lives. When these systems and institutions are flawed, it is the people caught up in these nuances that suffer. These flaws engulf the most vulnerable and discriminated upon in society, and the ramifications are unutterable. When we don’t aim to rectify these failures and we choose to ignore the victims, we have birthed a major human rights crisis.

As calculated by the Pew Research Center in its 2010 study, there are on average 11,200,000 unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. at any one time. Without documentation or legal rights to be in the country, your life is not your own. You essentially remain in limbo, stagnant and still enough to remain under the radar of the authorities. However, you could still be a target to the businesses and individuals who seek to gain personal pleasure or commercial profit from you — or sometimes both.

Abuse on American Farms

Approximately 4 million women immigrants work on farms in America for less than $6 an hour. They endure extremely harsh working conditions, such as no toilet breaks, no pay for random amounts of time, punitive lack of health and safety enforcement and sexual violence. Many women are raped by their supervisors who identify undocumented female immigrants as the perfect victim — isolated, no rights under the law and unlikely to report a crime should they face deportation.

This treatment is tolerated by these women, along with little to no pay, to quite literally put food on America’s table. The report “Injustice on our Plates” interviewed 150 immigrant female farm workers in the U.S. and found that they survive on almost nothing, have even less rights and live in fear of being deported.

You know why they do this. Women immigrants are usually escaping violent and unthinkably unsafe home turfs in Guatemala, Mexico and Latin America, and they know there are jobs in the U.S. and that it should be a better quality of life. It’s true that the U.S. needs their labor more than ever, but cannot offer these women basic human rights through U.S. citizenship.

The U.S. immigration system is broken.

Broken System, Broken Lives

There is a huge gap in between demand for U.S. citizenship and actual visas and residency cards granted. In fact, the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program offers a sort of lottery where more than 13 million South American residents opt in for a chance to win one of the 55,000 visas available. This gives each hopeful a 0.01 percent chance, and yet this is a more likely route to U.S. citizenship than the actual application.

So who stands a chance better than 0.01 and doesn’t have to play a lottery for those odds of citizenship? The extremely wealthy, the highly skilled professional, the unusually talented or those with close family relatives who are permanent residents or citizens of the U.S. Even for these lucky individuals, the process is unfathomably complex, laborious, nontransparent and can take years. From green card to Form N-400 to biometrics to the interview to the test to the ceremony, candidates will most likely benefit from counsel on how to navigate citizenship or establish asylum, and will need general support through an arduous and stressful application.

There have been countless petitions and cases brought to the U.S. government for immigration reform. What we are witnessing both inside and out of the States is a major human rights crisis. An extremely vulnerable group is being used up and abused in the most unimaginable ways, enabled by a system that seemingly acts against the needs of its country. What we’re seeing is not just a few simple inconveniences related to the U.S. citizenship process, but in fact a very tragic and ongoing problem.

Kate Harveston is a political writer with an interest in social justice and progressive change. She has a background in journalism and Criminal Justice, so she enjoys anything related to law, politics, culture and the written word. In her spare time, her favorite activity is reading dystopian fiction. If you like her work, you can subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased, or follow her on Twitter for updates!

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