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Women and families need comprehensive immigration reform

With Memorial Day behind us and summer vacation in full-swing, summer is just beginning to hit its stride here in Montana. Just talking about it brings a smile to my face: vacation, bbq, family, camping, fireworks, roasting marshmallows, swimming, and this summer, comprehensive immigration reform.

The season that seems to celebrate so many things American, is perhaps the perfect time for our country to embarking on an epic discussion of immigration reform.

Here at Montana Women Vote, we support comprehensive, fair immigration reform and the time to passed it, is now. And as an organization, we often get to engage in discussions about difficult issues, but few conversations evoke the same reaction in part because our identity as Americans, is deep, complex, and imperfect, and that can be challenging. But as much as our conversation about immigration reform can divide us, I believe that we are actually a lot of things that we can agree on.

We can probably agree that our communities and state are stronger when all families have the resources and support to thrive. So as we begin this immigration reform debate, first and foremost, we need to change our immigration system so that families can stay together.

Between July 2010 and September 2012, over 105,000 parents of children who were US citizens, were deported, with almost 100,000 more excluded or left voluntarily. Parents of kids who are citizens, who have no option but to uproot their children from their community and leave the only life their kids have ever known. In fact, the long-term emotional and psychological effects of this kind of turmoil on children is being studied to understand some of the consequences of our current immigration policies.

And if the entire family in not uprooted, many families with mixed immigration status find that one parent may be deported with the other parent staying in their community, trying to raise their kids. In 2008, there were 4 million kids living in mixed status homes. Our immigration system essentially creates single parent households despite two parents wanting desperately to stay together, work hard, and build a stronger future for their kids.

But then again, it is not just immigrant families that work to create a better future for their kids, it is the driver of all of us. You might even say that it is one of the ways that we define ourselves as Americans.

Unfortunately, the stories of families being torn apart are also American stories, Montana stories. While we may have fewer immigrants than our neighbors, they are still deserving of dignity, respect, and fairness under the Big Sky.

In fact, immigrants in Montana are significant to our communities and our economy. They are families working hard in every community across the state. Just among Asian and Latinos in Montana, their purchasing power was almost $750 million last year. And in 2008, Latino voters in Montana accounted for 1.7% of our population, which doesn’t sound like much, but with 8,000 votes that is enough to swing a statewide election.

Next week, this discussion of immigration reform will be center stage in the US Senate and Montana’s Senators Baucus and Tester will cast crucial votes. They have the opportunity to make our system more fair, transparent, secure, and efficient.

While the immigration reform bill is long and complicated, the crux of the issue is this: the bill would allow families who have different immigration status, or no status, to correct that through a multi-year process so that parents and their children can participate in our communities without the fear of being separated by the immigration system – by no means a perfect bill, but a really important start for immigrant families.

One of the big problems that we see in the bill are some of the proposed bans, which are upwards of 15 years for newly documented immigrant from access health care and other programs and services that help women and families. Arbitrary bans are just hurtful -- and at the end of the day our communities and our state are strongest when individuals and families have the tools, resources, and support to thrive.

So, before you really let yourself get into the thick of all things summer, let’s make sure that we seize this opportunity begin to fix our broken immigration system. Call Senator Baucus and Senator Tester and let them know that you believe in dignity, and fairness for all Montanans, regardless of their immigration status. Tell them that you are one more Montanan standing up for fair immigration reform.

You can find contact info for our Senators as well as more information about comprehensive immigration reform and why it matters to women and families at our website:

I’m Olivia Riutta with Montana Women Vote. Thanks for listening and I hope that you have a fabulous summer.

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