North Carolina, like many states in the US, is comprised of vibrant and diverse immigrant communities. Immigrants make up 8% of the state’s population and 10% of its workforce, contributing billions of dollars of taxes and pouring hundreds of billions in spending-power into North Carolina’s economy every year, according to 2015 statistics from the American Immigration Council.
By all accounts, foreign-born North Carolinians enrich the economic and cultural landscape of the state. Immigrant women, however, often face a unique set of challenges while accessing resources in their new home.
Immigrant women are too often unemployed or underemployed due to barriers of language, childcare, education, culture and documentation. Even women who have held skilled professions in their country of origin face greater difficulties in accessing the same level of employment after immigrating. Additionally, language barriers, documentation status, and lack of financial independence can also leave immigrant women more vulnerable to domestic abuse, where such barriers can be exploited for an abuser’s control. (See how fear of deportation dramatically decreased reports of domestic violence for Hispanic women in Texas).
What about immigrant women in North Carolina? The New American Economy, a research and advocacy organization that evaluates and scores the 100 largest US cities on factors that affect immigrants, rates several North Carolina cities based on measures such as public policy and socioeconomic conditions for immigrants.
By the NAE’s ranking, Raleigh, North Carolina ranks last among 22 cities in the Southeastern United States, with an overall score of only 1.48 out of 5 – indicating generally poor socioeconomic conditions for immigrants and weaker policies and protections.
Durham fares better than Raleigh with an overall score of 2.83 out of 5. Durham achieves high marks for job opportunities and economic prosperity, but a dismal score of 1 for economic empowerment, as well as a 1 for civic participation, including number of naturalized citizens.
Although these low ratings can be disheartening, InStepp programs provide much-needed services in the Durham county and Wake County areas by filling some of these gaps in support for members of North Carolina’s immigrant communities.
Among its many programs, InStepp offers free citizenship courses (including free or discounted naturalization services), as well as immigration legal services and services for Hispanic-Latina immigrant women, including those who have been victims of crime or are unemployed or underemployed. With these services, InStepp works to break down barriers faced by immigrant women, and to provide support and empowerment for these women to lead successful lives.
Even though North Carolina may still have room to do better for its immigrant communities, InStepp is helping to break down barriers, one woman at a time.