Women Raise Heat on Immigration Debate
Women Raise Heat on Immigration Debate
In preparation for the march for immigrant rights that drew tens of thousands to
Since last August Arellano, an undocumented immigrant, has been holed up in a small
"She gave a face to the crisis that is going on," said Rico, a youth coordinator at Centro Sin Fronteras, a community advocacy group in
Arellano, named one of the People Who Mattered in 2006 by Time magazine, co-founded the Chicago-based United Latino Family, which lobbies to keep together U.S.-born children and undocumented parents. Before taking sanctuary, she spoke from the podium at an immigration reform march in
Before her legal problems Arellano worked out in the open, earning $6.50 an hour cleaning airplanes until she was arrested for using a false Social Security number in a sweep of the airport where she worked.
Olga Vives, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, says, unlike Arellano, many female immigrants are working behind walls--as domestics, nannies, health care workers and hotel cleaners--and are therefore kept in the policy shadows.
Vives and others have been grafting gender issues onto immigration politics and raising the temperature of an already red-hot issue among feminist scholars, service groups, researchers and advocates.
In March, Vives' NOW and three other national women's organizations in
"With all of the anti-immigrant sentiment and all the talk about deportation, we were very concerned. We want to make sure that the issues affecting women are heard," said Vives.
In March, the annual Feminist and Scholar Conference at the
Laying the groundwork for the debate, the National Coalition on Immigrant Women's Rights--created with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum and Legal Momentum--set up meetings with members of Congress. On May 8, it held a phone conference to share top priorities with groups across the country.
The coalition seeks a legalization program allowing undocumented migrants to apply for residency without excessive fines or re-entry requirements; enforcement of existing labor laws; improvements in reunion opportunities for families; child and reproductive health care; and more safety for victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Women are 50 percent, or 14 million, of the foreign-born
Immigrant women are caught in a double bind. Like other women, they often face inadequate wages, higher family caretaking demands, reproductive health care needs, domestic violence, sexual harassment and gender stereotyping.
"Migrant women are more vulnerable to violence and rape and poverty because of patriarchy and the reasons for abuse of women in general," said Gabriela Flora, a
The gender issues, however, sit atop a mountain of universal concerns: labor protection, health care, anti-immigration sentiment, social service support, family separations, limited paths to legal status, dangerous border crossings, racial hatred and mass deportations.
Of particular and immediate concern to advocates are the mass roundups of immigrants at workplaces and even shopping malls, which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has mounted since Dec. 12, 2006, when 1,300 people in 12 states were detained.
'Tearing Families Apart'
"It's tearing families apart," Flora said. "They have devastating effects on women and children and a huge impact on communities."
Children are left to fend for themselves, unaware of their parents' whereabouts. One 16-year-old girl in
In addition to the raids, Melinda Lewis, director of policy, advocacy and research at
Women who live with abusive partners also fear deportation and even some immigration lawyers offer little help, said Jorgelina Karner of the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence in
"In rural areas, if a client comes in and says 'I can't take it anymore,' lawyers have said, 'Just stay; you're just three to four months away from a green card,' which is the same as saying, 'Just stay and take the punches, stay and be killed,'" said Karner.
Women in domestic employment have little recourse against abusive employers, said Melissa Nalani Ross, research analyst at the Center for New Community, a training, research and community organization in
Ross, who researches the anti-immigration movement, sees women used as pawns. For example, she said, anti-immigration activists point to the oppression of women in their home countries and argue that permitting immigration brings these same cultural attitudes into the
Such groups also object to the high reproductive rate of immigrants because it produces children who are born in the
Cynthia L. Cooper is an independent journalist in