New Grant for UA Researcher Advocating for Women

A Southwest Institute for Research on Women researcher will be able to continue her research exploring the condition of women serving in detention centers as well as her outreach efforts for domestic laborers.

Nina Rabin, the institute's director of border research, recently received a $50,000, two-year grant from the Vital Projects Fund Inc. to continue two initiatives that she began last year. Rabin�s work attempts to better understand the condition of women, namely those who are immigrants, who are being exploited and who are low-wage workers.

Her project, "Protecting Women�s Rights at the Border," consists of two initiatives: the Tucson Women Worker�s Project and the Report on Women in Immigration Detention Facilities.

The multifaceted project incorporates legal services, research, education and advocacy. It is held though a collaboration with on- and off-campus partners, including the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law, the American Friends Service Committee and the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project.

In a year in review report, Rabin noted that given issues related to the U.S.-Mexico border, the political situation and certain social beliefs about immigrant populations as well as legislation regarding undocumented workers has made the situation challenging.

"Women immigrants are an especially vulnerable portion of the labor force, given the low-visibility jobs in which they tend to work and the increasingly hostile climate towards immigrant workers in Arizona," the report noted.

"In this climate, immigrant women are all too likely to submit to working conditions that jeopardize their safety and well-being," the report continued.

"At the same time, an increasing number of women who are caught up in deportation proceedings -- as a result of being apprehended at the border, picked up in a workplace raid, or through other circumstances -- are currently trapped in a detention system ill-equipped to meet their basic needs."

The SIROW project and its initiatives are attempting to help remedy such problems.

"After less than one year, both initiatives are well under way and have already yielded positive benefits for their participants, immigrant women, partnering organizations, and law students alike," Rabin noted.

The Tucson Women Worker�s Project is an educational clinic, run by UA law students and volunteer attorneys, for domestic laborers and other low-wage workers --including housekeepers, nannies, child and elder care providers --to inform them of their rights and to provide a safe place to report allegations of abuse and seek legal help.

She noted that the initiative has continually held its labor rights clinic and continues to offer free legal advice and counseling.

"In the Women Workers� Project, we have had several recent victories for individual workers, and are launching a campaign to document the impact of the employer sanctions law on immigrant workers," Rabin said.

The law, which became effective this year, allows employers in Arizona to sign up for a service managed by the federal government that allows them to check the status of would-be employees using Social Security numbers.

Rabin said the project's effort now will be to increase the size and visibility of the Women Workers' Project by offering a larger volunteer pool of attorneys and increasing the number of women the project can support. The supports will continue its weekly clinic.

The effort has been successful so far, she said.

About 50 workers have been assisted and thousands of dollars of unpaid wages and compensation have been recovered as a result of charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board and the Arizona Attorney General�s Office Civil Rights Division, she added. And some have gotten their jobs back after wrongful termination, she said.

The other initiative, the Report on Women in Immigration Detention Facilities, consists of a research project. The project included a UA law school course that involved students in both the Women Workers' Project and research on the detention facilities.

Researchers working on the initiative have held interviews with detainees, attorneys and social service providers for women in Arizona's immigration detention facilities.

This work, Rabin said, "is providing a valuable service to our community by providing free legal advice and counseling about employment issues to low-income women workers. Other than this project, there are currently few resources available to low-income workers in Tucson, most of whom cannot afford to hire private attorneys to assist them when legal problems arise at work."

For those working on the research project, the intent is to understand the backgrounds and particular needs � health related or otherwise � of female detainees while also providing legal services to the women.

The project is expected to culminate later this year with a report documenting the situation of women being held at Arizona facilities.

Ashley Kaper, a third-year law student, has been working on both projects. This summer, she has helped conduct research for the soon-to-be released report and also helped staff the clinics, which are held off campus each Wednesday for domestic laborers.

"I had heard about Nina and began talking about summer options," said Kaper, who had long been interested in immigration law.

"�This is important for multiple reasons. The immigrant population, especially in the state of Arizona, has been disenfranchised and stripped of its rights. That continues to take place," she said.

"And when it comes to women in the workplace, there are low-wage workers who feel they have no rights," Kaper said. "I think it�s important to ensure that people do have a choice and that they do have power within our legal system, albeit sometimes it is very limited."

Through such work, Rabin�s intention has always been to inform policy decisions while also improving public knowledge about female immigrants and domestic laborers. Her newly awarded grant will move her closer to that goal by helping to make the projects more comprehensive.

"Both projects have been in a testing-the-water phase,"Rabin said. "We can continue to really develop this into a long-term partnership. This is allowing me to move from a pilot phase to a more long term vision for the program."