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Immigration and Detention: Women’s Human Rights Across Borders

Cross- posted from our Bell Bajao blog. Written by Eesha Pandit, Breakthrough’s Women’s Rights Manager

As she went into labor Juana Villegas was shackled to her hospital bed. Living in Tennessee, she gave birth while in custody. She had been pulled over while driving and taken to jail when the officer discovered that she did not have a valid drivers license as was undocumented. She went to prison, where she went into labor. Her ankles were cuffed together on the ride to the hospital and once there, Juana begged the sheriff to let her have at least one hand free while in labor. She was denied.

Watch Juana’s story:

In another instance, Maria, also undocumented, was more than 8 months pregnant and on the road with her husband and two US born children when they were pulled over by a police officer in Tuscon, Arizona.

Tuscon police spokesmen claimed in an interview with the Huffington Post, that the family had been stopped as part of a “random license plate check,” which indicated that insurance on the vehicle was suspended. When Maria’s husband did not have a valid driver’s license and admitted to being in the United States without documentation, the authorities called the Border Patrol.

Maria asserts that her water broke when she was roughly pushed into a Border Patrol car. She soon went into labor and was not allowed to be with her husband as she gave birth and he was deported within the week. Inside her delivery room with her were two armed Border Patrol agents.

Watch Maria’s story:

These women, living miles apart, share an experience of giving birth while in custody. It is an experience shared by more and more women in the United States and around the world. In the US specifically, incarcerated women, particularly those who are undocumented, face a vast set of barriers to accessing health care, as do their children and families. What do Maria’s and Juana’s experiences show us?

They show the additional points of vulnerability faced by women who are immigrants and refugees. They are at greater risk to experience violation of their human rights either at the hands of others in the community or at the hands of the state, because they often live outside the protections afforded by citizenship. Yet another border is created around them. This border keeps civil society protections just out of reach. Their very identity is criminalized leaving them no recourse for justice.

In another illuminating example, immigrant and refugee women, like all women, face the risk of domestic violence. But their status as immigrants or refugees often means that they face a tougher time escaping abuse.  They often feel trapped in abusive relationships because of immigration laws, language barriers, social isolation, and lack of financial resources. They worry about what will happen if they go to the police. Will they be sent away? Will their families be torn apart? Will they have any financial resources available to them? How will they survive?

These challenges facing immigrant women are particularly acute for women who are undocumented. How can an undocumented woman who is considered a criminal by simply being in the US appeal the government to uphold her human rights? As it turns out, this is exactly the tough spot that we put undocumented people in. And it is exactly the reason that human rights should be afforded to everyone regardless of their citizenship status, in the US and everywhere else in the world.

No one should have to deliver their child while cuffed to a hospital bed, or be forced to deliver their baby in the presence of armed guards. Yet this is what happened to Juana and Maria, and countless other women in the US and around the world. Their stories show us something very important: Borders shift. Citizenship policies change. But human rights must remain constant.

Take action! Encourage your representatives to support the International Violence Against Women Act, which calls for a comprehensive U.S. response to end violence against women and girls globally.
Photo courtesy of bellbajao.org

Unlike the woman in the DSK story, most immigrant women are afraid to report sexual assault

Among the numerous unique and compelling stories of immigration that our nation has witnessed in its rich history comes another one; one that is disturbing and moving in equal part. On May 14, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), was arrested as he was about to catch a flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Paris. A 32-year-old housekeeper had courageously come forward to report that she was sexually assaulted by DSK during his stay in the midtown Manhattan Sofitel hotel. As the media storm around DSK’s scandal and his political future intensified, the woman (her identity is being kept secret) who accused him remained well away from the media glare, protecting her identity and dignity amidst an increasingly messy situation. However, as a recent New York Times portrait of her life revealed, her story is extremely unique- in an environment that is increasingly hostile towards immigrants, it is rare that immigrant women who are victims of sexual and physical abuse (and there are many), are able to find the courage to report the crimes they face.

The woman was born in a tiny hamlet in the West African country of Guinea, a 13-hour drive from the nation’s capital Conakry. While she was in her early teens, she was married off to a distant cousin, gave birth to her daughter, and was widowed soon after. While in her early 20s, she immigrated to the United States, seeking a better life for herself and her daughter, and began working at a small African restaurant in the Bronx. In 2008, she got a job as a maid at the Sofitel New York, a high-end hotel in the heart of Manhattan. Her lawyers confirmed that by this time she had documentation and legal status. Then on May 14, her world was suddenly thrust into the public eye as she became the center of an international scandal involving high-level diplomacy.

Her brother, Mamoudou, commented on her character-

She is a village girl who didn’t go to school to learn English, Greek, Portuguese, what have you…All she learned was the Koran. Can you imagine how on earth she is suffering through this ordeal?…Before she left here, nobody even knew if she could speak up for herself. She never got into any arguments, with anybody.

While DSK has been charged with the crime, the trial is still underway and no verdict has yet been reached. However, the story of his alleged victim highlights the rapidly growing issue of sexual assault among immigrant women, and indirectly points to the fact that undocumented women remain the most vulnerable to abuse, as they are especially afraid to report the crime for fear of being pulled into the detention and deportation dragnet. The housekeeper in DSK’s case has legal status, not to mention incredible courage, that enabled her to report the crime to the local police. But her courage seeks to remind us that there are many women who face violence, both at home and in their work, who continue to be exploited and are unable to seek help because of immigration status and their fear of being criminalized themselves.

Last week, many women – mostly hotel housekeeping staff from around the city – gathered outside DSK’s court hearing to protest against his alleged crime, claiming that many of them have been victims in similar incidents but are often afraid to speak out. One of the protesters, Ada Vélez Escalera, a housekeeper at the Hilton who had moved from Puerto Rico when she was 16, said-

A lot of us don’t speak up. You’re embarrassed or have a family to support and you know if it will be you or the guest who’s believed. In this case she was brave enough to scream for help…I’m proud of being a room attendant and when guests come to our hotels they need to respect us and know we are there to make their rooms clean and comfortable, not for private service…I had to leave my education because I had a sick child. But the money I’ve earned as a room attendant helped me have a house, a decent life and put my son and daughter through college.

The issue raised by the housekeepers is a growing concern among the immigrant community. It is worsened further by damaging statements made by political officials that essentially discourage the reporting of sexual assault crimes by immigrant women. In Massachusetts, State Rep. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) has been part of a group of regional GOP representatives uniting against Governor Deval L. Patrick’s decision not to join the controversial Secure Communities program (S-Comm). When asked if he would be concerned if a woman with undocumented status is raped and then is afraid to report the crime for fear of deportation, Fattman replied, “My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward…If you do it the right way, you don’t have to be concerned about these things.” His comment brought him sharp criticism, and when contacted for further clarification, Fattman attempted to contextualize it with an even more troublesome allegory-

If someone got into a car accident, it’s obviously a tragic event. But if they’re drunk and they crash, it’s a crime. If that person was drunk and survived the accident they would be afraid to come forward. I think if someone is here illegally they should be afraid to come forward because they should be afraid to be deported…But if you weren’t here, the crime wouldn’t happen.

Such brash disregard for basic human rights, such as the right to be safe from harm and the right to due process and justice, is alarming. Rep. Fattman’s statements signal a dangerous situation in the country if victims of violence and sexual assault are afraid to report the crime for fear of being deported instead. This roundabout way of blaming the victim is incredibly damaging to our society, encouraging violent crime and making our communities less secure.

The harsh anti-immigrant enforcement laws that are being enacted in states around the country only seek to add to the environment of hostility and fear that makes it harder for local law enforcement to effectively protect communities. Last week Alabama Governor Bentley signed into law HB 56, the harshest anti-immigrant bill to be passed by any state thus far. The bill, inspired by Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, imposes even stricter requirements on virtually all institutions in the state to conduct immigration checks. In a statement reacting to the bill, Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said-

Today, Alabama effectively turned state workers, peace officers, and school teachers into de facto immigration agents.  Immigrants and people of color will be subjected to additional, unconstitutional scrutiny when they take their children to school or interact with local law enforcement officers.  Friends and family members of undocumented immigrants will face criminal charges simply for driving them to church or to the grocery store. By passing HB 56, Alabama’s legislators have deemed an entire class of people not worthy of the most fundamental rights, which were carefully prescribed to all people by our Founding Fathers.  This law effectively makes immigrants the latest group of people to suffer a legalization of discriminatory behavior against them, and threatens to turn back the clock on our hard-won civil rights.

Alabama’s HB 56 adds to the growing number of states that have set in motion some sort of harsh anti-immigrant laws (see PDF map from the National Immigration Law Center for the latest Arizona-inspired legislation). These sweeping anti-immigrant legislations are not only unconstitutional and in violation of basic human rights, but they will also negatively impact the economies of the states that implement them. Most of all, communities will lose faith in their local law enforcement, always living in the fear of being racially profiled and arrested for deportation under the pretense of a minor offense.

With less than 18 months until the next presidential election, Democrats and Republicans are busy shaping their immigration policies to woo voters. At this time it is important that they focus on preventing draconian state-level anti-immigration laws from being enacted and instead, working towards comprehensive immigration reform that is enacted on a federal level. Statements such as those by Rep. Fattman only undermine the principles of freedom, justice and due process upon which our country is built. Victims of violence, such as sexual assault and rape, must be supported and made to feel safe and secure and given the justice they deserve, instead of being intimidated into silence. Denying basic human rights to one group will inevitably affect all our freedoms.

Sign the petition asking for Mass. Rep. Fattman to apologize for his comments and for the State House to publicly denounce his stance.

Show your support for due process. Become an ally of the Restore Fairness campaign today.

Photo courtesy of nij.gov.

POLL: Should all victims of abuse and violence have recourse to justice, regardless of their immigration status?

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Georgia “Show Me Your Papers” Legislation Will Endanger Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Guest blogger: Azadeh N. Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director, ACLU Foundation of Georgia

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. In observation, Georgia lawmakers should reject legislation that attacks immigrant women, including H.B. 87 , a bill currently pending in the Georgia legislature that is a copycat of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 racial profiling law. H.B. 87 would endanger victims of domestic violence and sexual assault by creating more fear and distrust of local law enforcement in communities across the state, much like 287(g) has done. Similar to 287(g) agreements, which are agreements between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local police/sheriff departments, H.B. 87 would charge local law enforcement with enforcing federal immigration law.

As the ACLU of Georgia’s reports on Cobb and Gwinnett counties detail, 287(g) agreements have made members of immigrant communities fear and distrust local law enforcement and ultimately more hesitant to report crime.

According to Alyse López-Salm, Community Outreach Advocate for Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV) , “287(g) has ensured that many survivors of domestic violence remain in the shadows—terrified to call the police or even reach out to organizations like Partnership Against Domestic Violence for help.” Alyse says that when survivors of domestic violence finally come into contact with PADV, they say they were afraid that seeking help would have a negative effect on their immigration status.

As “Jenny’s” account illustrates, this perception is far from groundless. On July 29, 2009, Jenny called 911 to stop her partner from assaulting her. But instead of protecting Jenny from the man who had been hitting and kicking her, the Cobb County police officers who responded to her call relied upon her abusive domestic partner’s account of what prompted Jenny’s 911 call, as she speaks little English. Her abuser’s side of the story was, not surprisingly, far from honest.

According to attorney Erik Meder, who represents Jenny in her deportation case, as a direct consequence of seeking help from the police, Jenny was herself arrested; physically separated from her infant daughter; spent five days in the Cobb County jail; and placed in immigration removal proceedings.

Jenny’s experience and that of others like her are likely to have a negative ripple effect, because as word gets around, similarly situated survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Cobb and other 287(g) counties may be dissuaded from seeking help in the first place.

The legislation now under consideration in Georgia would create a similar atmosphere of terror throughout the state. H.B. 87 would authorize the police to investigate individuals’ immigration status in the course of an offense, including traffic stops, if they fail to provide one of the select identification documents.

If passed, all Georgians will have to carry ID on them at all times in order to avoid being detained while police try to determine their status. Despite language that purports to prohibit investigation of immigration status for victims of a crime, in reality, the legislation will have a chilling effect for crime victims who will be even more scared of calling the police.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the ACLU lawsuit challenging Arizona’s S.B. 1070 , Legal Momentum, a women’s rights group, points to how S.B. 1070 will endanger immigrant women:

Immigration status significantly affects the willingness of immigrant women to seek law enforcement help. Rape and sexual assault already have low reporting rates. Immigrants who are victims or witnesses of sexual assault will be even less likely to report and aid in the prosecution. Immigrants with stable permanent immigration status are more than twice as likely as women with temporary legal immigration status to call police for help in domestic violence cases (43.1% vs. 20.8%). This rate decreased to 18.8% if the battered immigrant was undocumented. These reporting rates are significantly lower than reporting rates of battered women generally in the United States (between 53% and 58%).

As we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Georgia legislators should heed the call of women’s rights advocates and reject the Arizona copycat legislation that is sure to further drive underground survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Photo courtesy of nmu.edu

Fox News’ awkward reaction to SNL’s “Fox & Friends” spoof

“Fox News: Coffee, smiles, fear and terror!”

On April 9, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) actors Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer and Bobby Moynihan played the presenters of Fox News’ morning talk show ‘Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade, respectively. The cast discussed several current issues starting with the federal budget showdown last week to Mexican immigration and the issue of anchor babies. They barreled through the topics with humorous irony, proving that these issues are very much pertinent. As recent events around the country regarding anti-immigrant laws and challenges to birthright citizenship indicate, the opinions they spoofed do in fact exist in our country.

In one of the many digs at Fox News and their conservative alignment, Moynihan as Kilmeade talks about how close the U.S. government came to a shutdown last week, with: “We almost had the first government shutdown in the history of this country!” When his co-host Carlson asks if that’s true, Kilmeade gleefully responds, “Oh I just assumed.” At another point Carlson, expressing her strong objections to Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign, asserts that “When American kids get too skinny, chubby Mexicans will take American acting jobs. Just look at the kid on ‘Modern Family’!” With this skit, the SNL team joins a growing number of mainstream media that are explicitly addressing the issue of immigration, with another recent example being ABC’s ‘The Good Wife’ that broke stereotypes when representing an immigrant Latina nanny. The SNL team takes this further by spoofing the attitude of Fox News towards this issue, with a particularly spirited appearance by Helen Mirren as a “border war expert” who shares her fears about “undercover Mexicans in America, you know, known as A-merx-icans.”

The following Monday, April 11, the real ‘Fox & Friends’ reacted to the SNL spoof by very carefully steering clear of any of the issues that NBC’s cast had addressed. The hosts discussed the impersonations done by the SNL cast but avoided any mention of how the spoof challenged Fox News’ stance on many pertinent issues. Gretchen Carlson (the real one), then concluded their discussion on the spoof by saying-

“Thank you, SNL, for saying that we mean something in this business. After being number one all this time, why not do a skit on us?”

While SNL’s spoof is timely and a much needed take on the issues in the mainstream pop culture space, it’s also an indication that immigration debates (as well as other socio-cultural topics that were raised) are intensifying. The perspectives that the SNL team mocked do exist, which makes it all the more important that we keep pushing to raise awareness around the issues at hand. The SNL spoof also plays along the lines of Good Day Every Day, the news/curriculum element of Breakthrough’s groundbreaking new human rights Facebook game, America 2049 (”Like” the Facebook page here to learn more). Watch the host of the future – Fox Williams – discuss a range of issues including immigration, sex trafficking, religious intolerance and racial profiling, and discover how the discussions tie into the mission of the game.

We look forward to the next major mainstream take on these issues. Until then, play America 2049 and watch SNL’s take on “Fox & Friends” here (our readers in the US can watch it in its original version on the NBC site):

Photo courtesy of rawstory.com

Domestic violence survivors first to be affected by Arizona law

The starting day for Arizona’s controversial new anti-immigrant law SB1070 is fast approaching. July 29th is around the corner and the country waits with bated breath as the Obama administration argues for an injunction to stop the law from being implemented. A Reuters article discusses the four scenarios that could occur. The injunction could be successful, or unsuccessful, in which case both parties have a choice to appeal the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Another outcome could be a partial injunction which would only stop some sections of the law from going into effect. And finally, the state legislature could try to alter the law so that its constitutionality cannot be challenged.

But a pattern of states taking up the issue of immigration has emerged strongly. According to the L.A. Times, that’s nothing new.

Many states have their own regulations governing illegal immigrants. And five states have introduced bills similar to Arizona’s SB 1070, which is the target of a federal lawsuit.

Even though Arizona’s law has generated the most amount of controversy, there are many state laws that fall into the federal subject of immigration.

Colorado restricts illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition. Nebraska requires verification of immigration status to obtain public benefits. In Tennessee, knowingly presenting a false ID card to get a job is a misdemeanor…Not all of the laws are anti-immigrant…Ten states have passed laws to allow undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition, and several have expanded access to state-funded health benefits and improved enforcement of wage and hour laws.

All this points to the increasing need for federal comprehensive immigration reform plan that will prevent more Arizona’s from taking place and help fix the broken immigration system.

The impact of SB1070 can be devastating as it destroys the trust between communities and the police that help keep those communities safe. It’s already happening as a New American Media article reports about women affected by domestic violence and silenced by SB1070. Like Lourdes (name changed), a survivor of domestic abuse whose husband reminded her that Arizona’s new law made undocumented women like her liable to deportation. She finally called the police after reaching a shelter eight months pregnant.

Hidalgo, executive director of Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC), a nonprofit that runs the shelter, says that in the past, police officers have been very helpful in protecting victims. But he believes they are now finding themselves between a rock and a hard place. This is because SB 1070 allows Arizonans to file suit against any police department they believe is not enforcing the new law correctly. A department found to be out of compliance could be fined up to $5,000 per day.

Moreover, even the shelter could get in trouble if proved to be helping undocumented immigrants, though there are some exceptions for social workers and first respondents. The law will continue to bring up grey areas where people are unclear what action should be taken, leaving a space for violations, racial profiling, and much of the dangers that many opponents of the law have outlined.

As more and more stories like Lourdes come out into the open, SB1070 is teaching us a lesson that immigration reform cannot wait. Take action now.

Photo courtesy newamericamedia.org

Promising Harvard sophomore, Eric Balderas, faces deportation

UPDATE: Good news makes for good updates! U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have said that they will not pursue the deportation of Eric Balderas. ICE spokesman Brian Hale said that Balderas has been granted deferred action, which the agency can use at its discretion to halt deportation, after reviewing the merits of a case. So Eric will be able to continue his studies at Harvard and we wish him all the best in his dream of curing cancer! In the meanwhile though, they are many others like him who might not be as lucky. Support the Dream ACT so they can all have a chance at their dreams.

Until two weeks ago 19 year old Eric Balderas was a sophomore on a full scholarship to Harvard University with a major in molecular biology and the ambition of becoming a cancer researcher. In an instant, he went from representing the promise of the country’s future to being threatened with deportation to Mexico, a country that he has no recollection of.

Eric, who is undocumented, was on his way back to Boston to start a summer research internship after visiting his family in San Antonio, Texas. When he tried to board his flight at San Antonio airport, he found himself being questioned about his immigration status by TSA officials who then alerted Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Eric was immediately handcuffed, fingerprinted and placed in immigration detention for five hours before being given an immigration hearing date and then released. Eric, who usually used his Mexican passport to board domestic flights within the U.S. had recently misplaced it, prompting him to use a Mexican consulate card and his Harvard ID on this present occasion. On a phone interview with the Associated Press he said-

I’d made it through before so I thought this time wouldn’t be any different. But once ICE picked me up I really didn’t know what to think and I was starting to break down…All I could think about was my family…

Eric told the press that he even contemplated suicide as he sat handcuffed. Shook up by his time in detention, Eric is fearful about being forced to drop out of college and return to Mexico. Eric moved to the U.S. at the age of 4, when his mother fled Mexico to escape domestic violence. As far back as he can recall, he has worked hard towards his dream of going to college and working for cancer research. Growing up, his mother worked 12-hour days packing biscuits while he babysat his younger brother and sister and juggled his homework. Speaking about his aspirations he said-

I honestly never thought I’d make it into college because of my status but I just really enjoyed school too much and I gave it a shot. I did strive for this.

Eric’s experience is a tragic example of a broken immigration system that needs fixing so that young people that have been in the country for most of their lives and are working hard to contribute to the country’s future are given a chance. Since he was detained, Eric has engendered wide support from civil rights activists, advocates and an active online community. Over the past ten days, Eric’s story has been covered by major press publications such as NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Associated Press and ABC News, and he has become another poster child for the DREAM Act (Development Relief in Education for Alien Minors Act), an important piece of legislation which would provide a path to citizenship for the thousands of young people like Eric Balderas and Jessica Colotl who were brought to the U.S. as children and know no other country as home.

Universities such as Harvard, Brown and Tufts have been pushing for the passage of the legislation, which has been stalled in Congress since 2001. A year ago, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust met with Senator Scott Brown to urge him to support the measure. Christine Heenan, Harvard’s vice president of public affairs and communications, spoke of the institution’s complete support for Eric and others like him. She said-

Eric Balderas has already demonstrated the discipline and work ethic required for rigorous university work, and has, like so many of our undergraduates, expressed an interest in making a difference in the world.

Advocates and “Dream Activists” across the country have been pushing their state senators to move the DREAM Act legislation forward. If passed, the DREAM Act would permit those who came here as children (under the age of 16), and have lived here for more than 5 years, to gain legal status after completing the necessary steps such as two years of college or military service.

Eric, who previously participated in DREAM Act actions such as the “Coming out of the Shadows” day in March has taken the opportunity to become vocal about the plight of students like him. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson, he reassured his fellow Dreamers that just as he has received massive support from people around the country, there is strength in solidarity and hope for a just solution. He said-

Just hang in there. Let others know of your problem and try and gain support for the DREAM Act, because that’s ultimately what’s going to save us all.

Let’s hope that Eric is allowed to fulfill his dreams, and that others do not have to endure what he is going through.

Watch Eric’s interview with the Harvard Crimson to see how he feels about the process-

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.com

Women and children hardest hit by Arizona law that targets immigrants

As we get dangerously close to the July 29th date of implementation of Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation SB1070, we become appraised of more and more ways that it will adversely impact different communities in the state of Arizona. Not least of these is the way that it could prove extremely detrimental to women and children.

The new law, by mandating that local police in Arizona enforce immigration law and stop and question anyone that appears “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, inevitably creates a climate of fear in the immigrant community and erodes their trust of their local law enforcement officers. While immigration is an issue that impacts both the sexes, it affects men and women in different ways and at times like this, looking at it through a gendered lens is key to understanding its long-term impact on the community. And so, since Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law on April 23rd, there have been a number of articles re-examining the ways immigration is a “women’s issue” and how immigrant women will especially affected by the new law.

According to data from the Census Bureau, 50% of all immigrants are women, and we find that a third of these women are functioning as the primary breadwinners for their families once they arrive in the United States. While immigrant women have been extremely successful in the U.S., working hard and looking after their children, they remain an extremely vulnerable group, being dependent on their husband’s visas, lacking access to adequate reproductive health care, dealing with sexual violence before and after coming to the United States, and being unable to report violence out of fear of local enforcement.  Even without SB1070, we can see the problems that immigrant women have to face. Like the moving story from Gender Across Borders about Blanca-

Blanca had been the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her partner for several years…Blanca never went to the police about the abuse even though she came close to losing her life on several occasions. In many states, including some parts of New York, those who contact the police for help can be questioned about their immigration status. If she had been discovered living in the US without permission, she would have been deported. Her son had been born with a heart defect and received therapy and close monitoring from a doctor in New York. If she had been deported, she would have had to choose between leaving her children in the care of their violent father or bringing them with her and endangering the health, and possibly risking the life, of her son.

And until we get fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform, laws like Arizona’s SB1070 will ensure that immigrant women who are victims and witnesses sexual abuse, partner rape, domestic violence, stalking and assault get pushed further into invisibility as they fear that reporting crimes to the police will result in them being questioned about their immigration status. By requiring that police ask for identification from anyone that comes to their notice that they “suspect” might be here without the right papers, organizations like the National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women are extremely concerned that even those that provide services to victims of abuse will now hesitate to extend their services to undocumented immigrants for fear of criminal prosecution. They are working towards halting the implementation of the law by organizing law enforcement opposition to it and collecting stories of those who are already being affected by it.

On May 9th, women’s rights leaders from around the country met to participate in an Emergency Women’s Human Rights Delegation to listen to testimonies about the impact of SB1070 on women and children who were already suffering the repercussions of racial profiling sweeps and raids as a result of 287(g) agreements between Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and local police. Following this, 500 women marched to the State Capitol in Phoenix on Mother’s Day to draw attention to the ways in which they had been affected, including families being separated, physical and psychological abuse from law enforcement officers, racial profiling and deportation without due process.

The testimonies and efforts of organizations such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Domestic Worker Alliance, the AFL-CIO, the Family Values at Work Consortium and Jobs with Justice have culminated in an ad-hoc Congressional Hearing of women and children directly affected by SB1070, that will take place in Washington D.C. tomorrow. The hearing will seek to convey the urgency of the situation in which SB1070 has created an environment in which the human rights of women and children are under attack, and will call on President Obama to end immigration enforcement programs that are complicit in such human rights abuses.

When looking at the adverse effects that harsh enforcement practices have on immigrant women, it is impossible to ignore the ways in which they impact the well-being of the millions of children that are implicated in this broken immigration system. These children are our country’s future, and we cannot afford to have our future hang in the balance of a broken system.

Photo courtesy of jezebel.com

Immigrant women defy odds on International Women’s Day

March is the month where International Women’s Day celebrates the strides women have made, in spite of all they have to endure. Like Rosa Morales, an immigrant woman who turned her life around and went from the brink of being deported, to being awarded a scholarship for her contribution to society.

Two years ago, what started as a 911 call to register a case of domestic violence turned into a deportation case for Rosa. Although her husband was a legal resident, she had been living in the U.S. as an undocumented resident. Rosa, then a 35 year old mother of two boys, was taken to an immigration detention facility where she was held for a month before she was given a deportation hearing and released after her husband paid a bond. While in detention, Morales looked back on her life, realized that she was frustrated with living under extreme financial hardship, and took the decision to turn her life around. Soon after her release, she earned her GED and joined Promotoras, a group of women volunteers who visit schools and churches to provide information on health and education to other women in the community. In spite of continuing financial hardship, both Rosa and her husband have enrolled in college and she aims to follow this up with a social work degree at Arizona University, a job, and then citizenship. Recently, in honor of her commitment to bettering the life of her family and community, Rosa Morales was awarded the Virginia Palmer Memorial Scholarship from the Tucson Branch of the American Association of University Women.

While Rosa’s story is one of hope, we also want to call attention to the hardships faced by many immigrant women as they struggle to provide for their families. From exploitation by employers to the denial of reproductive health, domestic violence to the constant threat of separation from their children, undocumented women face many challenges. Many will be in the March for America on March 21st, calling for just and humane comprehensive immigration reform to reclaim their lives and contribute to society without living in fear.

But not everyone is sympathetic to the cause. In a conference call two days ago, Numbers USA, The John Tanton Network and the Tea Party Movement discussed strategies to counteract the March for America, with the groups advocating an anti-immigration stance that targeted Latina women and even children. From our friends at Campus Progress who listened in.

CALLER 1: I would like to speak out on something. I feel the new welfare queen in America today is women coming from Mexico with a bunch of babies. So I feel they’re all coming over here and having all these babies, they are the new welfare queen in America…

CALLER 3: One piece of information would be, they aren’t babies, they’re dependents. Don’t use babies. It’s emotional to them. They have dependents. We have babies.

And the racist ball didn’t stop rolling, even though the accusations are unfounded and irrational. Callers discussed strategies to flood Congress with phonecalls and faxes “to create the perception that there was a grassroots opposition to immigration reform”. Perceptions are powerful, but so are the actions of hundreds of thousands of workers, families, and women calling for immigration reform. So get your voices out there.

How has the immigration system fared one year under Obama’s presidency?

In early 2009, President Obama appointed the governor of border-state Arizona Janet Napolitano, and a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For many, it was a sign that the administration would tackle immigration reform as a priority. In her first week in office, Napolitano ordered a sweeping internal review of DHS, aimed at identifying key areas for reform. March 2010 marks the one year anniversary from that week. So how much has changed for immigration?

For this we turn to a new report released by the Immigration Policy Center which compares actual reform undertaken by the agency to reforms that were recommended to them by immigration policy experts, academics and community members that would instill fairness and due process.

While DHS struggles towards reform it has failed to meet some key expectations… The department has engaged thoughtfully and strategically on some issues… However, turning principles into practice has fallen short, and the practical realities for individuals caught up in the system have not necessarily changed for the better.

DHS has done well in some areas. Focus has been shifted away from from harsh worksite raids to a focus on  employers who hire undocumented workers. Welcome detention reforms have been announced particularly focused on healthcare and conditions of detention. A precedent was created whereby women who have suffered domestic violence are eligible for asylum. The Department was  efficient in responding to the earthquake in Haiti, granting Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the U.S. and humanitarian parole to 500 orphans.

But the spirit of reform has been strangled by an “over-reliance on enforcement policies”. There has been little growth in community alternatives to detention or legally enforceable standards and people continue to face poor medicare care and substandard conditions. 2009 has seen the growth of partnerships with state and local law-enforcement that arm them with the power to enforce immigration law even though this is a federal responsibility. There has been a growth in programs that criminally prosecute those caught crossing the border, draining resources away from prosecution of serious crimes such as drug and human trafficking.

And the failures. There has been little tangible progress in the areas of due process, with the immigration court system continuing to remain overburdened, and an appeals process still compromised. The continued expansion of state and local law enforcement programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) programs have led to accusations of racial profiling and large scale prosecutions of individuals with no criminal history.

But although there are many areas where reform is desperately needed, ultimately these will be administrative measures carried by an administrative agency DHS. But the fundamental problems of the system will continue to grow until Congress works up the courage to institute just and humane immigration reform. We can only hope that the White House and Congress gives the broken immigration system the attention it deserves, so that rather than counting down another year of incomplete policies and inefficient reforms, we have a just and human immigration system that accounts for the realities on the ground.

Photo courtesy of fairimmigration.files.wordpress.com

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