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Immigrant student fights for women’s rights in the nation’s capitol

One of the most exploited and defenseless people in America is the immigrant woman.

She plants, cooks and serves us our food, cleans our houses and hotel rooms and takes care of our children.

But unlike her male counterpart, she is also a target for sexual abuse, gender discrimination and domestic violence.

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That is why Georgia State immigrant student Julie Nguyen decided to join hundreds of other women and community leaders at the “Women Stand Together” convention in Washington D.C. – to help those that help us.

“The current immigration process discriminates against immigrant women making them more susceptible to exploitation and abuse,” Nguyen said in a press release. “The fear of being deported and possibly separated from their family forces women to remain silent while they tolerate sweatshop working conditions and sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Pushing for comprehensive immigration reform “was not easy,” but Nguyen was excited to be representing women and students of Georgia State.

“It was my first time doing it,” she said. “I was very excited.”

Nguyen flew to Capitol Hill on Monday evening together with a group called 9to5, a non-profit organization for working women, brainstorming ways to fix what the White House considers to be a broken immigration system.

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Wednesday, in a detailed list of ultimatums to congress, the organization came up with a set of priorities to present to congress: a roadmap to citizenship that, “recognizes women’s work, keeps the family together, protects women on the job, ensures due process and protects survivors of violence and trafficking.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of immigrants in the U.S. since 2007 has grown by about 2.4 million people, with 40 percent of all immigrant women lacking an official job.

“I want primary immigration status for all immigrants,” Nguyen said. “It is all or nothing.”

The new senate bill would put close to 10 million workers in the labor force, boost GDP growth by 5.4 percent by 2033 and increase the Social Security Trust Fund by more than $200 billion, according to national director of domestic policy Cecilia Munoz.

In total savings, the government predicts up to $1 trillion for the estimated 10 million additional taxpayers that comprehensive immigration reform could bring.

Linda Meric, national executive director of 9to5, believes immigrant families will strengthen the economy, but they must first be provided with the tools necessary for work, like a viable work VISA and other forms of legal documentation.

“We will all benefit from a common-sense immigration process that leads to safe communities, healthy children and a strong economy,” she said.

For their stand on Capitol Hill, Meric recognized that in order to help motivate congress to pass immigration reform that does not overlook the priorities of women, they had to present congress not only with facts, but real-life stories, like those experienced by 31-year-old graduate student Julie Nguyen.

“My parents came here with barely anything to eat,” Nguyen said. “We ate rations to get by.”

Nguyen, studying social work at Georgia State, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1986 when her family migrated to the U.S. from Vietnam. She did not speak at the conference, but was able to share her story with others throughout the daylong event.

“I don’t want anyone to experience what my parents and I went through,” she said.

Having past the senate committee, the immigration reform bill is now headed to the full senate, who will review the bill this Monday.