This article is part of The Latin Times' Latinas 2024, a thematic week focused on Latina's impact on the U.S. economy, culture, and politics. Although Latinas comprise more than 30 million people in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, they still face major day-to-day challenges, including underrepresentation, the gender pay gap, labor discrimination, and sexual harassment. Discover our articles and interviews exploring the complexities of being Latina in the U.S. today.

Laura Vazquez
Laura Vazquez, the Associate Director of Immigrant Integration at UnidosUS Laura Vazquez

NEW YORK CITY - As immigration continues to be a highly salient topic in the U.S., another pressing issue can be overlooked: what are the options for migrants once they are inside the country?

Changing immigration status can often be a complex, intricate, and more than anything, expensive process. Obstacles of this nature often make it increasingly difficult for newly-arrived Latinos to be able to effectively change their legal status in the country, which subsequently brings forth a new set of challenges which may prevent them from having as many tools as possible to build a life in the country.

This issue is not new, and that is why a Latino focused organization has relieving these challenges as its main goal.

UnidosUS is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves as the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. From health to education and financial empowerment, the organization seeks to empower the voices of Latinos across the country.

Laura Vazquez serves as the Associate Director of Immigration Integration at UnidosUS. She works with affiliates to expand and sustain their immigration legal services programs. Having previously worked as a constituent caseworker for Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Vazquez believes the current immigration system in the U.S. is broken and deserves to be fixed.

Vazquez recently sat down with The Latin Times to discuss the current state of immigration as it pertains to women. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does it mean to be a Latina in the US today?

To be Latina in the U.S. today means advocating for the recognition of the contributions of powerful Latinas alongside all of us here today.

What would you say are the main issues that Latinas face?

One of the critical issues that Latina immigrants face in the United States is the lack of high quality, low-cost, immigration legal services. We have an extraordinarily complicated immigration system, and there are not enough qualified legal service providers who can help Latina immigrants navigate these complex processes, and to provide them with reputable information, to help prevent them from applying for something where they may not be eligible and to help guide them through a process when they are in face eligible and to advocate on their behalf when they are eligible for an immigration status.

Over the past year, we've seen an increased migrant crisis. How would you describe what the current immigration landscape looks, particularly in relation to Latina women?

I think there's a consensus that the current immigration system is broken and that we don't have immigration laws that are reflective of the 21st century. We have immigration laws that were last updated in the 1990s. We need to modernize them to reflect the needs of the United States today. I think there's consensus that we need to fix the immigration system. The challenge that we face is that, while there are effective policy solutions that we know are in the best interest of our economy and in the best interest of our communities, and our employers, we would benefit from having new contributions made by workers who want to come to the US and contribute.

We also have, unfortunately, members of Congress who want to obstruct any progress and obstruct the modernization of our immigration system, that's the obstacle that has been keeping the consensus to modernize this system from happening. Until we're able to have obstructionists see these benefits that we would all benefit from, we have a big challenge in front of us.

Laura Vazquez
"The Power of Us" conference by UnidosUS in Chicago, Illinois Laura Vazquez

What are some steps that we can take as individuals to help the issue of immigration and the lack of modernization in the immigration system? Do you think it's solely the government's job?

There are opportunities for individuals to make their voices heard, and to advocate for a functional immigration system that benefits the country. In making sure that members of Congress hear from them, that they want to see an immigration system that recognizes that we have contributing immigrants who have been in the country for a very long time, but who are undocumented, and who require a path to citizenship to be created by members of Congress.

We need to have an immigration system that recognizes that we need to have immigrants who come through humane and safe legal avenues. We understand that immigration has to recognize the borders that exist, and so having an effective border strategy is part of that as well. Having informed community members to have their voices be heard to members of Congress that they wanna see these solutions is always important. We know that there are so many different sectors that are personally motivated to make their voices heard, whether they be employers in the textile sector or in agriculture, or school teachers who see the DACA students in their classrooms excelling. People need to continue to make their voices heard so we can pass this simple demagoguery of this issue and have a policy discussion that is rooted in facts and solutions that we can find an agreement on.

Looking ahead, what is your hope for immigrant Latinas as they keep getting established in the U.S.?

I think what we see in the UnidosUS affiliate networks are incredible Latinas who are leading powerful and transformative community-based organizations that are having an impact day-in and day-out on the lives of their community members. We see Latina immigrants leading organizations in advocacy, in organizing, in providing critical and essential services to community members, whether that is after-school programs, or medical programs, or the immigration legal service programs.

We are seeing that Latina immigrants are an incredible force in immigration legal services because of the contributions they can make from their own lived experiences, from having navigated that system, understanding how complicated it is, and being able to bring their cultural competency, and bringing their own incredible language skills and having received the training to be able to do that work. It's really an incredible opportunity that we see day in and day out in our affiliate network.

I'll just close by highlighting one of the examples that we were fortunate enough to bring attention to at our UnidosUS conference in Chicago last year. There's a strong, robust ecosystem of high quality, community-based immigration legal services programs in Chicago, and that included a Latina lawyer, a Latina immigrant who was an accredited representative, an advocate on behalf of the immigrants, and community navigators who provide essential information so that immigrants are provided with accurate information. So this network is exactly what we need in the immigration legal services field, so that we can scale the incredible services that right now we don't have enough of to meet the demand. This is where we see a lot of opportunities and a lot of hope in the future.

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