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MAY 14, 2009

Alicia Ingram - (404) 493-1724 / Michael K. Frisby - (202) 625-4328  




Poll Finds Women Immigrants Confront Many Barriers


WASHINGTON—New America Media (NAM) today released an historic poll on woman immigrants to America, research that documents their demographics, reasons for immigrating and incredible will to overcome obstacles to build a new life for themselves and their families.


The poll, conducted by Bendixen & Associates, was released today at a forum discussion and news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.


It found that women immigrants face formidable barriers. Many woman immigrants—Latin Americans (79%), Vietnamese (73%), Korean (70%), and Chinese (63%)—acknowledge speaking little or no English, while confronting anti-immigrant discrimination, lack of healthcare and low-paying employment well below the status of the professional work most did in their home countries.


“The poll establishes that in the latter part of the 20th century women immigrated to America in ever-growing numbers, and are now on the move as much as men, but often face vastly different circumstances and challenges,” said Sandy Close, NAM’s Executive Director. “Women are migrating not as lone individuals but as members, even heads, of families, determined to keep family bonds intact even as they travel great distances and adapt to new cultures.  This journey has activated women.”


For instance, the poll found that as many women settled in America, they also radically altered their roles in their private lives. Almost one-third report having assumed head-of-household responsibilities or sharing equally with their husbands the decision-making on everything from household finances to family planning.  Moreover, the poll found that the overwhelming majority—Latin American (81%), Chinese (71%), Vietnamese (68%), African (66%) and Arabic (53%)—said they had become more assertive at home and in public after moving to America. 


“Women immigrants reveal that they came to America not in search of streets paved with gold – making money was surprisingly low on their list of priorities – but because they saw the US as a place to build better futures for their children, and to make permanent homes for their families,” Ms. Close said.  “At a time when more than one-third of US families are single-parent households, 90 percent of women immigrants are raising children in intact marriages.”

US Representative Michael Honda (D-CA) applauded New America Media for highlighting the stories and needs of immigrant women.


 “Many in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities face tremendous challenges accessing important services, from healthcare to education to housing,” said Representative Honda, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). “Women at the head of immigrant families often bear the brunt of disparities that our communities face. I look forward to working with my congressional colleagues to address these concerns.”

The poll also found that:


  • 82% of Latin American women found discrimination against immigrants to be a major problem for their family, compared to 17% for women from African or Arab countries, and only 13% for those from China.  Still, 90% of the Latin American women said they want to become US citizens.

  • 40% of immigrant women from Latin America and significant percentages from other regions do not have health insurance. A clear majority of women immigrants without health insurance are unaware of public health programs that could help their children receive medical assistance.

  • A majority of immigrant women from China, Korea, the Philippines, India, Africa and Arab countries describe their last job in their home country as “professional.” The study reveals that a substantial percentage of them have not found comparable employment in the United States. Their current jobs in America include working as a hotel maid, restaurant waitress, factory technician, house cleaner and textile worker. These results, and others, indicate that women may well be putting devotion to the well-being of their families ahead of personal job status and pride in choosing to immigrate.

  • When asked to name the biggest challenge they faced as women immigrants in the United States, the majority did not cite economic difficulties. Rather, "helping my children achieve success" and "being able to hold my family together" were the top answers—underscoring the importance of family in understanding the motivations and aspirations of this new wave of women immigrants.

The poll results reminded Representative Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) of the challenges her family encountered during their transition to America. 


“I found it striking that the data from this historic poll parallels my mother’s own experience in bringing me and my brothers to the United States from Japan in the mid 1950’s—her desire to build better futures for us; her early low-paying, no benefits jobs; her determination to keep the family together as head-of-household,” said Representative Hirono, a member of CAPAC’s executive board. “This survey shows a real need for key decision makers, on all levels of government and in the private sector, to support public policy that improves the quality of life for these women and their families.”


At the panel discussion and news conference, participants said the research data will be instrumental in helping the members of the public and support organizations understand not only the plight of women immigrants, but how government policy can improve the quality of life for them and their families.

“The study clearly indicates that women immigrants in the United States have not only become important contributors to the economic and social condition of their families in the United States but that they also have become catalysts in their assimilation to American culture and in the decision-making process about U.S. citizenship,” said Sergio Bendixen, who conducted the poll.

Further, Olga Vives, Executive Vice President for the National Organization for Women, said, “This is important information to have as we engage our country in meaningful discussions around comprehensive immigration reform, which must address the issues affecting immigrant women and their children.”


The poll of 1,102 respondents has a margin of error of 3 percent and was funded in part by grants to New America Media from Atlantic Philanthropies, Carnegie Corp., Ford Foundation and the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund. NAM also received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to assist with distribution of the poll results.


“We are grateful to our supporters who made this research possible,” Ms. Close said. “We believe this data can have a tremendous impact by improving our understanding of immigrant women and their families. This can help make a better America.”


(To RSVP for the event, schedule interviews with one of the participants or request an embargoed copy of the report, please contact Alicia Ingram at (404) 493-1724  or Michael K. Frisby (202) 625-4328 .)


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