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"Not only was the work hard, but because I am a young woman, foremen and restaurant owners thought they could have their way with me."
- Carmen (read Carmen's story)

"It didn't matter to the agents that some of the women were pregnant or if we had small children at home. They took us [to jail] without any explanation."
- Florencia (read Florencia's story)

"I know a lot of women who suffer domestic abuse. They aren't able to pay the rent since without papers they cannot get stable work."
- Claudia (read Claudia's story)

"The manager called us stupid, ignorant and vulgar."
- Maria (read Maria's story)
photos of women and girls

Women And Immigration

Carmen, Florencia, Claudia and Maria are women who have come to the United States in search of a better life for themselves and their families, only to find immigration to their new country rife with problems they'd never imagined.

Five years after the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the National Network for Immigration and Refugee Rights reports that immigrant women are among the most vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and human rights violations in the United States. Legislation enacted since the Conference has had a negative impact on the well-being, employment and family life of immigrant women. For example, while many welfare-to-work programs offer services to help women find jobs, they often fail to address important needs such as access to training, childcare and transportation. These are crucial elements that help women move into the workforce and be successful in their jobs.

Women immigrants to the U.S. face particular challenges, not only because of inequalities that exist between men and women, but sometimes due to additional responsibilities of family and home. In the workplace, immigrant women may be subjected to gender discrimination as well as prejudice based on their ethnicity or country of birth. Women who do not have documentation allowing them to work legally are often forced to work under sweatshop conditions. Many undocumented women immigrants work in fields and farms, sometimes with their children at their side them because they can't afford a babysitter. Other immigrants come to the U.S. to be domestic workers or caregivers, sometimes leaving their own children in their native country to be raised by relatives. Find out more about this phenomenon in an article about transnational motherhood.

Read the following intimate stories of Latin American women, selected from AFL-CIO town hall meetings held across the country.


My name is Carmen. I am 17 years old and the mother of a 15-month-old baby boy. When I was five years old, my mother came to the U.S. from Baja California, Mexico, and left my teenage sisters in charge of my 7-year-old brother and me. By the time I was 7, my mother had raised the money to have a coyote (a person who charges high fees to smuggle people into the U.S.) get my brother and me across the border. My mother was forced to take us to the fields because she couldn't afford to pay a babysitter. We worked there almost every summer; it broke my mother's heart to think that we would have to go through what she did. The rest of the year I worked weekends in restaurants: 11-hour days for only $30 per day. When I got home my hands were cut and burned, and my whole body ached. Not only was the work hard, but because I am a young woman, foremen and restaurant owners thought they could have their way with me, so I also had to put up with sexual harassment.




My name is Maria Sanchez. I am from Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. There I was the head cashier of a chain of government-run markets. With the devaluation of the peso in the 1980s we lost everything we had. We went to Salinas with our four children to look for a better life. In 1997 I got a job as a housekeeper at a hotel in Palm Springs. The work was very difficult. I earned $4.75 per hour and no benefits. The manager called us "stupid," "ignorant" and "vulgar." When they started to take away our vacation benefits, we were so angry, we started to organize with a hotel employees union. Then the manager found out and started to harass us. After an organizing march, the manager suspended the floor supervisors who had marched with us. I tried to convince the manager to put our co-workers back to work. She refused. Finally, we all walked out - 37 people. It was beautiful. The next morning, the manager let us know we were all fired. We started the strike from that day on. I lost my house; I sold some of my possessions so I could survive. After four months of the strike, the National Labor Relations Board and the union negotiated a settlement with the company, that we would all get our jobs back. But then we got a terrible shock. The company insisted on checking everyone's immigration papers before returning us to work. I didn't care who had papers and who didn't. We all deserve to be respected. We decided that no one would go back until we all went back. The union didn't back down, and we won. Finally we all returned to work at the hotel.




My name is Florencia Garcia and I live in Brewster, Washington. I have worked for many years in an apple packing plant, but in 1997 I was arrested by the INS while working there. The majority of the workers arrested were women who had been living in the U.S. for a long time. It didn't matter to the agents that some of the women were pregnant or if we had small children at home. They took us away without any explanation. When we got to jail, a Spanish-speaking agent told us that if we chose to go before a judge, it would be likely that we would be in jail for many months. After 10 minutes, we had to decide what to do. I was afraid that if I stayed in jail the INS would go and arrest the other members of my family. It was all very confusing. I was very nervous and decided to be deported that day. Almost all of us who were deported in that raid came back to Brewster because we live and work there. We don't want to go back to Mexico to live because our children are from here now. In Mexico, we didn't eat, we didn't have shoes - how can we return to that poverty?




My name is Claudia Gonzales. I am 37 years old and I am from Mexico. In 1991 I came to the United States with my husband. In Mexico, my husband abused me, but things became worse here because he had papers and I didn't. He threatened to hand me over to Immigration, to take me there by force. I thought I had to continue with him, and take all I could take so that I could one day get papers (legal residency status). I had three children and since I didn't have permission to work, I wouldn't be able to do so. How was I going to make it with my children without work? Later, I took the risk. By then I couldn't go on living with him any more. I know a lot of women who suffer domestic abuse. They aren't able to pay the rent since without papers they cannot get stable work. Now I feel strong, but the mark the violence has left on me will never be erased.





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