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The War on Immigrant Women: Part of the Sweeping Crusade Against the Fundamental Rights of All Women

By Breakthrough President Mallika Dutt. (Crossposted from RH Reality Check.)

Araceli doesn’t go out alone anymore. She is frightened of ongoing harassment by local police, whom she used to trust to protect her. Trini drops her two children off at school every morning unsure if she will be there at pickup time. Other mothers in her communities have, after all, been “disappeared,” taken from their homes, and families, without warning or trace.

Think this is happening in Kabul? Juarez?

Actually, it’s happening in Alabama and many other parts of our country.

Today, the escalating “war on women” has — rightly — sparked widespread outrage and urgent action to protect women’s human rights in the United States. But the also-ongoing “war on immigrants” is not merely a coincidental crisis. Both are elements of a sweeping crusade against the fundamental rights of women living in the U.S., documented and otherwise.

The current attacks on women’s health, sexuality, and self-determination — in states, in GOP debates, on the airwaves, and beyond — is appalling enough. But it’s only part of the story. The war on women is even more than an assault on the most basic and personal choices in our lives, even more than an assault on our right to determine if, when and under what circumstances to become mothers. It is also an attack on our essential right to mother — to raise healthy, safe children in healthy, safe families. And on that front, it is immigrant women and women of color who suffer the most.

Laws such as Alabama’s HB 56 and federal enforcement measures such as 287g have injected fear and anguish into even the most routine aspects of many women’s daily lives: going to work or taking kids to school, or seeing the doctor. HB 56 gives police officers sweeping authority to question and detain anyone they suspect of being undocumented, with snap judgments based on skin color — that is, blatant racial profiling — accepted as an “utterly fair” method of determining who to accost. It also requires school administrators to track the immigration status of their students. It is shocking in its singularity of purpose: to make everyday life so intolerable for undocumented immigrants to the United States. that they will, indeed, “self-deport.” And already, the consequences for immigrant families have been unspeakably high.

These are families like that of Jocelyn, a fourteen-year-old girl who was sent to live with relatives when it became too dangerous for her mother and father to stay in Alabama. Jocelyn is not alone: a growing number of parents are giving power of attorney over their children to friends, neighbors and employers — even landlords and other near-strangers because the threat of deportation and indefinite detention is just too real. Immigrants in detention are often denied the right to make arrangements for their children or attend family court hearings. Others have been stripped of their parental rights entirely. The Applied Research Center estimates that deportation of parents have left five thousand children currently in foster care.

All this in a climate where worship of “family values” — that is, in reality, certain value placed on certain families — has reached near maniacal proportions. Ask Maria about how this country really values women, babies and families, and she will tell you how harassment by ICE agents — who refused to leave her hospital bedside — nearly led to dangerous labor complications. Ask Juana about giving birth to her son in shackles. Ask Tere about “family values,” and she will tell you how she risked everything to bring her son to the U.S. for life-saving heart surgery. Today, the danger is on our soil: she is so afraid of being picked up and detained that she has stopped taking her son to the medical appointments his condition requires.

The current war on women is in many ways an unprecedented crisis. But it’s also an unprecedented opportunity for action. I have been deeply moved, inspired and challenged by the actions of women who have refused to be collateral in a culture war, women who are demanding their fundamental humanity above all else. It’s time to use that power to make it absolutely clear that this war on women is a war on all women.

Many activists and advocates have long fought for the women’s rights movement to include immigrants and the immigrant rights movement to include women. And right now, we have the attention of the 24-hour news cycle, the pundits, the politicians, the millions of people in this country who value families and fairness — and who are now seeing the true colors of those who do not.

As the Supreme Court gets ready to hear a challenge to these egregious immigration laws, it’s time for those of us outraged by women’s human rights violations across borders and oceans to step up for all women’s human rights at home. It’s time to stop fighting battles in isolation. It’s time to stand together to win this war once and for all.

Follow Mallika Dutt on Twitter, @mallikadutt

Photo courtesy of webelongtogether.org

As the specter of SB1070 haunts Nebraska, the case for dropping the I-word becomes stronger

This summer, while the nation was in the throes of the debate around Arizona’s harsh immigration law SB1070, the small town of Fremont, Nebraska, decided to take immigration law into its own hands,  passing a law banning landlords and employers from renting and hiring people without adequate documentation.

It’s a precursor to the the anti-immigration dialogue running through the state of Nebraska, despite bring sparsely populated, enjoying relative economic stability, and not being positioned on the border. Dave Heineman, currently in the running for a second term as Governor of Nebraska, has been pushing for stricter immigration laws since he first ran for Governor four years ago. After an unexpected victory the first time around, the Republican Governor has made his opposition to immigration the central issue of his second campaign. Poised for re-election, he recently announced that a law closely modeled on Arizona’s SB1070 would be the first item on his agenda, were he to be elected as Governor again.

Following the support he received from Nebraskans over the Fremont law, and the sharp increase in his popularity ratings following his focus on immigration, Heineman is determined to push for a law that makes it easier for local law enforcement to arrest undocumented immigrants. He told the New York Times about his commitment to the issue-

I’m very adamant about this — the federal government has failed to solve the immigration issue…Next January I believe in every state in America there will be an Arizona-type law introduced.

Ironically, it was after two Republican officials – Chuck Hagel and Mike Johannes – worked to ensure that Federal authorities did not impede the hiring of undocumented people in Nebraska ten years ago that the state saw a rapid influx of foreign born residents, most of whom came to find work in the numerous meat-packing plants across the state. Although the state’s immigrant population grew by 40% since 2000, it was only after Heineman became Governor in 2005 that the negative discourse around immigrants began to gather momentum. In addition to the Fremont law, Heineman has been pushing to revoke in-state tuition rates for those college students who grew up in Nebraska but are undocumented. He been successful in his efforts to end prenatal support for pregnant women who do not possess adequate documentation, as well as put in a system of mandatory checks that ensures against benefits for those who might be undocumented.

While human rights groups, politicians, lawyers, and the Presidential administration itself, not to mention thousands of activists, athletes, artists, and individuals around the country worked hard to prove that laws such as SB1070 are unconstitutional, inhumane, and detrimental to the overall stability and success of the country, there are still people such as Governor Heineman who think otherwise.

It is important that we put an end to divisive politics and favor respect and human rights for all. The Applied Research Center is countering anti-immigrant discourse through Drop the I-Word, a national public education campaign focused on eradicating the racial slur “illegals” from media use and public discourse. The ‘I-word’ is a damaging term that divides and dehumanizes communities and is used to discriminate against immigrants and people of color. It is shorthand for “illegal alien,” “illegal immigrant” and other racially charged terms. The campaign redefines how we treat each other through a cross-generational, multiracial initiative aimed at raising the commitment to human rights, dignity and racial justice for all people.

It’s time to Drop the I-Word as a designation for our neighbors, children and families. Are you listening, Nebraska?