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How Caregiving and Immigrant Mothers are Devalued

By Teiana Nakano, Case Management Intern

In a country built on the backs of immigrants, “immigrant” has become a negative word. Enforced by phrases like “the immigrant problem,” immigrants are often seen as a liability rather than an advantage. From the travel ban of seven predominantly Muslim countries that came into effect January of 2017, to the recent decision on June 11, 2018 that people cannot seek asylum in the United States if the reason includes fear of domestic abuse or gang violence, restrictions on immigration are steadily increasing. Unsurprisingly, coming into the United States as an immigrant, refugee, or asylee also comes with unique barriers. From learning a new language to gaining citizenship or finding employment, there are many challenges to living in a different country.

If immigrants are marginalized, immigrant mothers are even more so. Nearly twice as many foreign-born mothers have poor quality jobs than U.S.-born mothers. We live in a society that fails to value caregiving and care-work, and expects women to perform such work in the house – free of charge. Women are still more likely to take care of their home and children, and on top of that, are expected to do it while active in the workforce. If care-giving was valued more in our society, immigrants and mothers may not experience as much marginalization. Overwhelmingly, the majority of care-giving jobs are held by immigrants, and even more often, immigrant women. At Daily Work, we can affirm this statistic in our own work with immigrants. In my experience with job seekers, particularly immigrant women, many of them pursue jobs as certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and other related caregiving and service jobs because their job choices are limited.

Sandra Sullivan-Dunbar, a radical feminist theologian, first introduced this concept of intersectionality between immigration and motherhood to me. In her book, “Human Dependency and Christian Ethics,” Sullivan-Dunbar advocates for a greater emphasis of caregiving within Christian ethics. She stresses the harm inflicted upon caregivers through the conception of “productive” or “unproductive” labor. The concept of “productive” labor is work that produces material goods that contribute to the economy. According to this idea, labor that does not produce material goods, such as caregiving, is “unproductive.” Sullivan-Dunbar highlights the experience of immigrant women and how this common ideology is particularly harmful to them. Sullivan-Dunbar’s radical ideas about care-giving and dependency within Christian ethics is just one way that we can begin shifting the general outlook on immigrants, women, and caregivers.

This is where you come in. Have you thought about the ways our society devalues immigrants, mothers, and most forms of caregiving? I challenge you to question this paradigm. Maybe that begins with reading thought provoking pieces like Sandra Sullivan-Dunbar’s book, or talking to your friends and family about the ways you see a devaluing of care-work in your daily lives. Perhaps, you can share your own experiences or thoughts about this blog? Whatever you decide, consider how you can actively advocate for or be an ally of immigrant women.

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