03 January 2011

Upping the Ante: States Move to Attack Immigrants' Rights, 14th Amendment

Happy New Year! Now that we're refreshed and refueled after a short holiday break, it's time to get back to the business at hand: pushing for progressive change that benefits all -- something that's about to get significantly harder as conservatives harness increased power in Congress and in state legislatures nationwide.

One issue we're sure to be hearing (and talking) much about in the near future is the coming state-level assault on undocumented workers and "immigration reform" -- a battle that will have a particularly severe impact on immigrant women, who now make up the majority of immigrants in the United States.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, at least six states (Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina) are now planning to propose anti-immigrant legislation much like Arizona's maligned SB-1070 bill, which is currently tied up in the courts after being challenged by the federal government and progressive groups. In addition to expanding the abilities of the police to question anyone "suspected" of being undocumented, as the Arizona legislation did, these bills also seek to bar undocumented students from public colleges and universities; allow for seizure of vehicles and property "used to transport or harbor illegal immigrants"; visit severe penalties on businesses that employ undocumented workers; and generally make life hell for anyone who is or aids an undocumented immigrant.

As David Bacon of Urban Habitat notes, the goal of laws is to so alienate and isolate the 12 million undocumented immigrants now in this country that they simply flee out of fear -- of incarceration or, quite simply, starvation. Pretty high-minded policy for a nation that prides itself of being a "global leader," don't you think?

And it doesn't stop there: keep a close eye, too, on a coordinated campaign coming out of Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri and Pennsylvania this week, pushing for the repeal of the 14th amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees birthright citizenship to those born on US soil. It sounds like a cruel joke, but it isn't: these lawmakers plan to wage a synchronized battle to make sure that the children of undocumented workers are cut out of the American dream, once and for all. And according to reports, they have a better shot at advancing this repeal than they have had for many years.

For undocumented women and children, these policies spell nothing but disaster. Women form the backbone of immigrant communities: they head the majority of immigrant households, they care for the elderly and children, and they provide communities with vital connections to schools, hospitals and social services. When immigrants are further criminalized by laws such as these, women and their families suffer -- as do entire communities. What results is an inevitable slide into greater poverty, isolation and violence, particularly violence against women and girls who are made more vulnerable when fear of deportation pushes them further into the shadows. These, of course, are outcomes no thoughtful citizenry could willingly endorse. Yet that is exactly what conservatives are trying to suggest we do, under cover of saving jobs from the "undocumented masses" and protecting the safety of "real" Americans. Those of us who believe in equality and justice simply cannot accept that faulty logic; we must fight to find a better way forward.

Women leaders in immigrant communities are ready for that fight -- with groups like Ms. Foundation grantees the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the National Asian Pacific America Women's Forum already pushing back, and creating unique strategies to counteract the dangerous tactics of the Right and create positive outcomes in their communities. "Women are definitely at the front line of this battle for human rights," says Caroline Hotaling, Program Officer at the Ms. Foundation for Women. "Whether it's a group of undocumented mothers confronting an adult anti-immigrant posse at an elementary school in Phoenix; a lawyer defending battered women from deportation in Michigan; or everyday women voicing their concerns at countless local government meetings across the country, immigrant women are fighting for the dignity of their communities."

We'll be writing much more in the weeks to come about how these conservative policy proposals negatively affect immigrant communities and damage our society as a whole -- and about the role women leaders are playing in crafting effective and more humane policies and solutions. America's treatment of its immigrant population is an issue none of us can afford to ignore; too much of our nation's future -- and the well-being of women and families -- depends on getting this one right.

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