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You see them working in restaurant kitchens, cleaning hotels and taking care of other people's children at local parks. But from Nina Rabin's perspective, immigrant women who do this work become invisible when it comes to laws and policies that impact their lives as mothers and employees. As director of the Protecting Women's Rights at the Border Initiative, run by the UA's Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW), Rabin leads two projects: Tucson Women Workers' Project, and the Report on Women in Immigration Detention. The Tucson Women Workers' Project, in partnership with the American Friends Service Committee, centers on a weekly legal clinic that began this fall. The Florence and Immigration and Refugee Rights Project helps Rabin navigate the immigrant-detention facilities in Florence. She travels there up to four times a week to interview detainees as part of her work on the Report on Women in Immigration Detention.

What is unique about these projects?

These are groups that tend to be overlooked. As we debate more about border and immigration issues, it's become clear we need this type of outreach. In some ways, each project is very different, but they both deal with women who are in a lot of ways kind of trapped in the unfortunate consequences of our immigration policies and our border policies.

If society overlooks these women, why should we care?

For the Women Workers' Project, these are women who in a lot of cases we entrust with our children, or (who are) caring for our aging parents, or cleaning our houses, or dealing with really intimate details of our lives. It is important to recognize who these people are that are doing all of that work. The women we've seen at our legal clinic are working in kitchens and cleaning in hotels, things that just allow our lives to function smoothly.

As you advocate for and interview these women, you are collecting data. What will you accomplish with this information?

I think for the Women Workers' Project, data will influence policy efforts on a national level. One example is to increase labor-rights coverage for domestic workers, because right now, they are not part of employment-law coverage. It could also help provide better family medical-leave policies and sick-time policies, and maybe increase minimum wage. So there are definitely national employment issues I think the data would support. On a local level. it would be great to work toward local area ordinances that we've seen passed in other towns. Some require a standardized contract for domestic workers so that everything is written and clear about the duties and the payment. I think something like that would be exciting.

There are about 200 women in immigrant-detention facilities in Arizona. What kind of impact do you want from the report you'll release next spring?

There is a need for reform on a national level and information about what is happening to these women. We don't know enough about these women, but we will, and I'm sure we will have recommendations on the facilities and bigger problems with detention, from how it affects families and children to what is the best place for these women.

If a comprehensive immigration-reform bill is approved, do you think you'll see more women at the legal clinics?

I could see it going either way. One of the biggest concerns is the employee-sanction bills. There is the Arizona law that will supposedly go into effect in January, although there has been some litigation about it, that would really crack down on employers of undocumented immigrants. Then there is the federal law that is tied up in the courts now but could go into effect and also increases penalties for employing undocumented workers. I think it will also increase the climate of fear that is already high. It will be harder for some people to feel comfortable coming forward. So, I feel immigration policy cuts both ways. It makes our work particularly challenging in outreach when people don't know who to trust.


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