About 5 million immigrant women who are undocumented live, work, and raise their families in the United States. They are college students and businesswomen, cooks and caregivers, field workers and lettuce packers. They are raising more than 5 million children who are American citizens.
Yet just as undocumented women are compelled by their immigration status to live in the shadows, their lives, labors, and aspirations remain largely invisible in a national immigration debate which tends to take male immigrants as the norm.
“Double Disadvantage,” by the Gender Equity Policy Institute (GEPI), presents key findings about undocumented women, their families, their work, and the challenges they face. The report is based on an analysis of Census and Department of Homeland Security data on immigrants in the United States as a whole and in the four states with the highest numbers of undocumented immigrants: California, Texas, Florida, and New York. (Para leer el reporte en español, click aquí)
The data shows that undocumented women face significant barriers to economic opportunity, even as they make vital contributions to the U.S. economy. Undocumented women are paid less than every other major demographic group in the United States. They have disproportionately high rates of poverty and are about 1.8 times as likely as U.S. women overall to lack health insurance.
The immigration status of all undocumented workers limits their entry into many desirable jobs and exposes them to exploitation and low pay. But in this group, women are doubly disadvantaged. Undocumented working women are typically paid significantly less than undocumented men—even when they work in the same occupation. In fact, the gender pay gap between undocumented men and women is about the same as that between men and women in the overall U.S. population.
America’s dysfunctional immigration system leaves millions of hard-working members of our communities in a precarious economic, legal, and social condition. In recognition of undocumented immigrants’ critical role in the economy and their longstanding community ties, some states, like California and New York, have enacted policies to advance immigrants’ economic participation and health. Other states, most notably Texas, have instituted policies which exacerbate their hardships.
The human consequences of these differing state policies are evident in GEPI’s findings. Undocumented women in California are the least likely to be poor. In New York, they have the highest incomes and experience the narrowest pay gaps. By contrast, undocumented women in Texas have the lowest incomes and are the most likely to live in poverty and lack health insurance.