Immigration reform bill clears Senate, but is it a feminist win?

Yesterday, in a 68-32 vote, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that we’ve been hearing so much about cleared the Senate. It’s a pretty big deal – it’s been a long time since an effort to comprehensively reform our immigration system got this far. But while some are hailing this as a major success, there are a lot of reasons to be concerned, particularly if we care about immigrant women and LGBTQ folks.

First, the bill passed with significant restrictions to health care access for low-income immigrants, meaning that folks who are eligible to begin the process toward citizenship will have to wait 15 years once that process is under way to be eligible for public benefits programs like Medicaid. This will prove hugely burdensome to women and LGBTQ immigrants, who disproportionately lack access to health care. Though there were some attempts to change the bill to ease this burden, they proved unsuccessful despite popular support:

It is disappointing to see debate on these critical proposals ended prematurely, especially since they’re well in line with mainstream opinion on the issues. Across the nation, most Americans support including immigrant families in our health care programs: 63 percent agree that aspiring citizens should be able to participate in Medicaid, and 59 percent believe people on the path to citizenship should be able to pay into and participate in the gains of health reform.

Yet another huge concern about the bill is the devastatingly huge amounts of resources dedicated to border militarization. In fact, the bill was able to pass yesterday due to the addition of a militarization package including a huge surge in Border Patrol agents, the building of more border fencing, 100% implementation of E-Verify across U.S. employers, and billions allocated to drones and other surveillance technology along the border. Funny, how there’s not enough money for health care for immigrants, but plenty for walls, and drones, and detention centers. It’s almost as if there were companies were profiting off of immigrants’ suffering!

I’ve written before about the ways that these provisions disproportionately affect women and LGBTQ immigrants, and a new study by the Immigration Policy Center confirms what many of us already knew: that the immigration system is rife with gender bias, a fact that does not seem poised to change with these reforms. It’s bad, y’all. So bad, that some immigrants rights organizations (notably, those at or near border communities) are actively protesting and threatening to pull their support:

Republicans have made the pathway to citizenship so onerous and restricted that millions will never qualify. Prior to the Corker–Hoeven amendment the bill’s enforcement provisions and “triggers” were already unreasonable and burdensome. At what cost will we continue to make concessions? Thousands more border deaths? Our communities turned into a war zone or a police state? Massive destruction of our borderland environment? This price is too high to pay, and we ask our allies and supporters to join us in denouncing this “compromise” and demanding that the Senate begin again on a genuine reform effort, one that doesn’t play politics with our lives.

It’s deeply and personally devastating, as an immigrant woman and as a person who is in friendship and community with undocumented folks who need reforms so badly, to see a process that could transform our lives turn into what basically amounts to a pissing contest of who can take away more health care and add more enforcement for political gain. And because the House is much more conservative-leaning than the Senate, advocates only expect the requirements for eligibility to become more onerous, the restrictions on access to care to become tighter, the militarization package to become even larger.

Can we just start over?


New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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