Organizations working with Latina immigrants : resources and strategies for change.
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Organizations working with Latina immigrants : resources and strategies for change.

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  • English

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    • Abstract:
      Over the last several decades, the immigrant population in the United States has experienced

      rapid growth, particularly among new immigrants from Latin America. This increase

      in migration has significantly altered the social and economic landscape of many local communities

      and the nation as a whole, leading to controversy and debate.

      Within this context of tension and ambivalence, many organizations strive to address immigrants’

      needs and to transform the social and political context that hinders immigrants’

      integration into communities and society. Nonprofit organizations and religious congregations,

      in particular, play an active role in this process. National religious organizations representing

      a range of traditions have issued public statements urging policymakers to create

      an immigration system that welcomes immigrants and respects their rights and dignity. In

      addition, many nonprofit organizations and congregations are working closely with immigrants,

      providing services and in some cases advocating for immigrant rights.

      Despite the important role that nonprofit organizations and congregations play in advancing

      immigrants’ rights and well-being, few studies have examined the full variety of resources these

      groups offer immigrants. To help fill this gap, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)

      conducted a two-year study that explored how nonprofits and congregations work with Latin

      American immigrants—the largest and most rapidly growing segment of the immigrant population

      in the United States—and especially with low-income immigrant women, whose interests

      and concerns are often marginalized in public policy debates and discussions.

      IWPR’s study explored the challenges many Latina immigrants face and the ways that

      nonprofit organizations and congregations strive to address them in three areas with rapidly

      growing immigrant populations: Atlanta, Georgia; Phoenix, Arizona; and Northern Virginia, a

      region within the Washington, District of Columbia (DC), metropolitan area. The study examined

      several sets of questions:

      ❚ What challenges do nonprofit organizations and congregations see Latina immigrants facing

      in the three areas of study? What resources—including programs, services, and advocacy—

      do organizations offer to respond to these challenges?

      ❚ How can public policies help or hinder the development of strategies, programs, and other

      forms of support that best serve Latina immigrants? How might these policies help to create

      either welcoming or exclusionary communities?

      ❚ What is the nature and scope of collaborative action among organizations that assist Latina

      immigrants and families? To what extent do groups in the study work with each other, and

      around what kinds of issues and concerns have they formed partnerships? What obstacles

      prevent the creation of effective collaborations?

      ❚ What changes in public policies, advocacy, and service provision would benefit Latina immigrants

      in Atlanta, Phoenix, and Northern Virginia?

      IWPR researchers explored these questions by interviewing nearly 300 organizations in

      the research sites. A total of 460 interviews with these organizations, including 398 phone

      and 62 in-person interviews, were conducted in 2009–2010. To contextualize and supplement

      information gathered from the interviews, IWPR analyzed the social and economic circumstances

      of Latino/a immigrants using data from the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2008 American

      Community Survey.

      The study finds that:

      ❚ Organizations working with Latina immigrants perceive that these women make valuable

      contributions to their communities. At the same time, organizational leaders report that Latina

      immigrants often face a range of challenges, including violence, poverty, limited English

      proficiency, poor working conditions, and inadequate access to transportation, health care,

      and affordable child care.

      ❚ Nonprofit organizations and congregations offer services and programs to help address these

      issues, although many of the groups are relatively small and struggle to meet the current needs.

      ❚ Congregations often assist immigrants on a largely informal basis. Though informal, this

      assistance constitutes a substantial portion of available resources.

      ❚ Although many groups advocate for immigrant rights at the local, state, or national levels, very

      few advocate specifically for the rights of immigrant women. Developing a stronger advocacy

      movement that focuses on immigrant women’s concerns is essential to creating programs,

      services, and policies that improve the circumstances of immigrant women and their families.

      ❚ Although some congregations do not welcome immigrants, others struggle to form “communities

      of transformation” that incorporate new immigrants and facilitate cross-cultural

      relationships and understanding. These groups can provide an important resource for both

      immigrant and native-born members.

      ❚ Municipal, county, and state policies related to immigration have a profound effect on the

      ability nonprofit organizations and congregations to assist immigrant women and their families.

      These groups perceive a need not only for changes in local and state laws, but also for

      comprehensive immigration reform that would address the issues at the national level.

      ❚ Collaboration is an integral part of how organizations offer services to immigrant women

      and engage in advocacy to shape public policies. Yet many nonprofits and congregations

      feel they would benefit from efforts to strengthen and expand existing collaborations.

      The report outlines these findings, focusing on the work of nonprofit organizations and

      congregations that assist low-income Latina immigrants. In exploring this work, the report examines

      the obstacles these groups face, especially those created by restrictive local and state

      policies. Some jurisdictions in the study have proposed or enacted policies and ordinances

      that target living arrangements common to immigrant families, discourage the presence of

      day laborers, limit the access of immigrants to certain public services, and forbid the use of

      languages other than English on public signs and in workplaces. Combined with intensified

      immigration enforcement in recent years, these policies create a context in which immigrants,

      especially those who are undocumented, are cast as unwanted and placed at risk.

      The rise in anti-immigrant sentiment and proliferation of anti-immigrant policies points to

      the need for organizations to not only offer services that help immigrants, but also to strive

      to transform the social and political climate that contributes to the conditions that threaten

      immigrants’ health, safety, and security. A strong advocacy movement that seeks to change

      local, state, and federal policies is essential to improving the circumstances of immigrant

      workers, families, and communities in the United States.

      Within this advocacy work, the circumstances of immigrant women demands greater attention.

      Because immigrant women are part of families and communities and are often responsible

      for building social networks, the issues that affect them have an effect on others

      as well. Policy changes to assist immigrant women, therefore, are widely beneficial. They are

      also essential to developing a well-functioning immigration system. Any attempt to change

      the current system that does not take into account immigrant women’s circumstances will

      remain incomplete and ineffective.

      Based on the analysis of the circumstances of Latina immigrants in the research sites,

      the organizational resources available to meet immigrant women’s needs, and the context

      in which these organizations must operate, the report concludes with the following recommendations

      for policy and practice.

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