As the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency comes to a close, one thing is clearer than ever - the fight for women’s equality is inextricably linked to realizing the needs of immigrant women and women of color. It is no surprise that women are under attack around the world as Trump, who dismisses boasting about sexual assault as innocent locker room talk, makes good on hateful campaign promises premised on nativism, and that among the primary targets of his Administration are black women, immigrant women, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and families living in poverty. While the executive orders, guidances, rhetoric and tweets of the past 100 days have stirred fear and anxiety in communities around the country and the world, immigrant women and women of color have continued to raise their voices, by organizing, mobilizing, engaging members of Congress and local elected leaders, in order to lead and defend our democracy.
More than 20 million immigrant women and girls live in the United States today. Five million of these women are undocumented. Immigrant women are mothers, daughters, students, workers, community activists, organizers, members of the LGBTQ community, and survivors of gender-based violence. They come from all over the world and are more likely to enter the U.S. through the family based immigration system. Twelve million immigrant women are currently in the workforce and hold a wide range of jobs, including as domestic workers, small business owners, tech workers, nurses, agricultural workers, service industry workers, and in many other professions.
Immigrant women play key roles in keeping American families and communities together and are essential to maintaining the vibrancy and cohesion of our democracy. Yet, from heightened vulnerability to exploitation at work, to criminalization in their own communities and exclusions from systems as fundamental as health care - immigrant women are targets of this Administration. Though millions of immigrant women participate in the American labor force, immigrant women earn less than native-born men and women, as well as foreign-born men. Black immigrant women earn even less - Caribbean women earn over 8% less than US born non-Hispanic white women; African women earn over 10% less; and Haitian women earn over 18% less.
Immigrant women workers are concentrated in low-wage occupations, with 42% earning $20,000 or less per year. The largest number of immigrant women workers are domestic workers, defined by the American Community Survey as maids and housekeepers. These women perform essential work and are entrusted with caring for our homes and loved ones, yet their labor is devalued and underprotected.
Despite their important role in American communities, families and the economy, immigrant women continue to get caught in the punishing immigration enforcement system, fall prey to unscrupulous employers, and face bars to accessing basic health and reproductive care. Prior to the election of Donald Trump, immigrant communities faced heightened levels of immigration enforcement and deportation, including the resurgence of home raids and the detention of mothers and children fleeing gender-based violence. In his first 100 days in office, Trump has dramatically shifted this baseline, criminalizing even the everyday actions of immigrant women and families. In one of his first acts as president, Trump issued an executive order that prevented refugees and individuals from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States. Immigrant women felt the impact of this policy change immediately, as a full half of refugees worldwide are women and girls and close to three-quarters of Syrian refugees to the US are women and children.
Organizing and action, in part by Muslim, refugee, and immigrant women leaders, however, galvanized the public and bolstered litigation efforts to halt the ban. Currently, the ban is temporarily enjoined by a federal court.
Immigrant women in the US have felt the impact of Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions, as hate crimes motivated by anti-Muslim hate have risen sharply and Muslim women have been subject to hate violence and discrimination. The Muslim and refugee travel ban was soon followed up by two additional executive orders that have greatly expanded the immigration enforcement apparatus in the U.S. and prioritize for removal virtually all undocumented immigrants. These directives, and others, have struck fear in communities across the country, and have mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to rise up in resistance. Earlier in April, child and youth leaders of We Belong Together, from around the country, gathered in Washington, DC to tell Trump that families belong together.
In addition to the extensive changes Trump has made to the immigration enforcement system, he has nominated a number of anti-worker, anti-immigrant, and anti-woman nominees to his cabinet. Several of his cabinet nominees faced criticism for the treatment of the domestic workers they themselves employed. Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch has been widely criticized as a threat to women and workers rights.
Strategic organizing led to the defeat of Administration-backed efforts to undo the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Administration and Congressional Republicans nevertheless, have persisted in curtailing access to women’s health, most recently overturning an Obama Administration rule protecting reproductive and other healthcare services for women.
The lessons of the first 100 days clarify that women - particularly immigrant women and women of color - will continue to be attacked by Trump’s policy agenda throughout his presidency. However, women - through their leadership and organizing - will continue to build a powerful movement for a fair and inclusive society.
Trump’s actions throughout his first 100 days as President have fomented fear in immigrant communities and communities of color. Setting aside the fear of detention, removal, family separation and retriggering trauma, women have continued to bravely share their stories and lead the fight for justice. In North Carolina, six undocumented hotel housekeepers who for years had been threatened with deportation by the boss that was sexually assaulting them came forward to file suit against a major hotel corporation that allowed this abuse to continue.
In Colorado, Jeanette Vizguerra and her children - leaders of the We Belong Together campaign, have bravely called for public attention to Jeanette’s ordeal as she was forced to seek refuge at a local church when Trump’s reshifting priorities targeted her - a mother, grandmother, community activist and organizer - as an enforcement priority.
In Florida, eleven year old Leah joined the We Belong Together Kids Caravan from Miami to Washington, DC to bring the message to Trump that she will fight for her mother who is facing deportation and that families matter.
As Trump moves beyond the first 100 days of his presidency and further solidifies his agenda, immigrant women and women of color will continue to stand at the forefront of the fight for fairness and inclusion, demonstrating through their powerful leadership that communities and families belong together.
Policy makers, state and local elected officials, the media and general public should support the visionary leadership of women of color and immigrant women by:
Standing against the normalization of and opposing policies grounded in nativist, racist and misogynistic ideologies;
Disrupting narratives that equate immigrants and communities of color with criminality;
Exposing the impact of immigration enforcement and criminal justice policies on women and families; and
Amplifying the voices and leadership of immigrant women and women of color.
Amanda Baran is an attorney and activist who engages in policy analysis and advocacy at the intersection of immigration and women’s rights. Previously, she worked at Legal Momentum: The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund and at the Department of Homeland Security, where she co-founded the Department’s Council on Combating Violence Against Women.
Sameera Hafiz leads the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Policy and Legal Programs team and focuses on anti-trafficking and immigration policy.
We Belong Together (WBT) was launched in 2010 by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum to win humane immigration policies that keep families together and empower women. Led by NDWA with the participation of women’s organizations, immigrant rights groups, and grassroots leaders across the country, WBT has harnessed the leadership of women and youth, led high-profile and creative actions, and educated policy makers on the contributions and needs of immigrant women.