A new report released today by the
Institute for Women’s Policy Research
(IWPR) finds that nonprofit community and religious organizations have stepped in to assist Latina immigrants who face challenges such as lack of health care and violence at home or in the workplace. The efforts of these groups, however, may be limited by immigration enforcement and legislation.
“Many immigrants turn to religious congregations and nonprofit organizations for support,” said Cynthia Hess, Study Director with IWPR and co-author of the report,
Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change
. “The organizations interviewed for the study offer programs and services designed to address a range of challenges that low-income Latina immigrants face, including disproportionate exposure to violence, lack of limited English proficiency, and inadequate access to health care, education, transportation, and child care.”
Based on more than 450 interviews with organizational leaders in the cities of Atlanta, and Phoenix, as well as the metropolitan region of Northern Virginia, the study finds that nonprofit groups and congregations often lead the way in changing policies that affect immigrants and providing resources for recent immigrants.
“These groups are doing all they can, but they are generally small and have limited funds,” said Jane Henrici, Study Director with IWPR and co-author of the report. “Their efforts are also hampered by current immigration enforcement practices that create a climate of fear that discourages some immigrant women from using services for which they are eligible, or even from leaving their homes.”
Several study participants said that police have followed immigrants in cars or waited outside their churches—traditionally considered safe places for immigrants to congregate. Economic circumstances may compound the challenges faced by immigrants, with a relatively high percentage of foreign-born Latinas living in or near poverty. For example, in Atlanta 25 percent live below and 35 percent live near the poverty line.
Organizations interviewed indicated that recent immigrants may also face increased rates of violence in the workplace or at home, but may not seek help due to economic circumstances, distrust of law enforcement officials, and fear of immigration enforcement. The organizations in the study pointed especially to a need for more health care services for immigrant women, as well as affordable legal services that assist women who face violence in the home or workplace.
A lack of resources, particularly those that specifically address the needs of women, also limits the extent to which organizations advocate for immigrant rights. Many groups in the study—including some led by immigrant women and men—advocate to a limited extent at the local, state, and national levels on behalf of the rights of immigrants.
“Part of the problem is that in the past there’s been very little focus on what immigration reform means for women,” said one study participant quoted in the report.
The study’s findings indicate that increased advocacy may be necessary to facilitate immigrants’ access to available services.
“Many local jurisdictions—including some in the study—have proposed and passed anti-immigrant legislation that places immigrants at risk,” said Barbara Gault, Executive Director and Vice President with IWPR. “As long as these policies remain, immigrant women and their families will continue to be discouraged from using programs and services that are available to them.”
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)
conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies. IWPR is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization that also works in affiliation with the women’s studies and public policy programs at George Washington University.