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