As the current U.S. political landscape continues to unfold, I have observed the emergence of a clear intersection between the attacks on immigrant rights and women’s reproductive rights. This commonality encourages all of us doing abortion rights and reproductive justice work in a human rights context to more deeply understand the ongoing struggles and human rights violations faced by the immigrants of our country.
Examining right-wing attacks on the lives, rights, health, and dignity of immigrants and women, whether violent attacks against persons or property, or the numerous legislative attacks that label, disparage, scapegoat, and stereotype both groups~gleans some fundamental themes.
Immigrants, particularly those with brown skin and who speak Spanish, and regardless of their longevity in their communities and their vast contributions to the U.S. economy and our entire society, are labeled “the other.” The right-wing constantly asserts that this population consists chiefly of law-breakers and threats to the public safety, stealers of jobs from the “real” Americans, abusers of scarce societal resources, and destroyers of the so-called American way of life. In similar attempts at isolation, demonization, shame, and stigmatization, women who are sexual, who use contraception, and who may choose to access abortion when facing an unintended pregnancy, are also vilified, cursed, judged, and viewed as carrying the scarlet letter. This is yet another example of “the other.” Immigrants are branded and are also seen as viewed the carriers of a scarlet letter.
Both groups are used as a basis for fear-mongering, hatred, and polarization within the electorate as women seeking to access their reproductive rights and immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S. are blamed and denounced in right-wing declarations as immoral and as core contributors to the downfall of Western civilization....at least as far as such demagogues as Palin, Beck, O’Reilly, and Limbaugh view their alleged civilization and their small-minded and bigoted way of life.
The utilization of the gender lens is critical in looking at the recent passage in Arizona of SB 1070, considered to be the most onerous state immigration law in the country. Although most parts of this oppressive law were recently struck down~specifically on the grounds of the jurisdiction of immigration law as a federal matter and that the most onerous aspects of SB 1070 encouraged discriminatory racial profiling based on “foreign appearance” - Arizona is actually the fifth state to introduce laws that criminalize immigrants on the state level. And at least a dozen others are considering the introduction of very similar bills.
Amie Newman clearly describes significant background of immigrant rights as a women’s rights and reproductive justice issue in Rh Reality Check,
“Immigration [now] has a female face....it’s not about the invisibility of the immigrant men...it’s about the unique story of women who are now emigrating to the United States in greater numbers than ever before, while still remaining dependent more often than not on a male partners’ visa to remain in this country. It’s about the vulnerability of the female experience as it relates to her body and health. It’s about the fact that a woman is exposed to vastly different, dangerous scenarios because of her sex....[and] women now make up more than half of all immigrants coming to this country...[they are] doing so during their prime reproductive years. These are young women seeking opportunities for their families, to improve their lives and the lives of their current and future children....[and] one-third of immigrant women who enter this country are also acting as heads of households once they are here....[and ] are in unique positions as caretakers and protectors of their children’s lives and health as well. [According to a 2009 New American Media poll], some 90 percent of women interviewed (30 percent of whom are undocumented) report that their family units are intact-their husbands live with them, and their children are either born here or have joined them in this country...but female immigrant life is [still] a fragile one that needs a stronger foundation, not more cracks. ” And laws such as SB 1070 are enormous cracks that ultimately take “women and families down a backwards path of disruption and discord.”
According to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), SB 1070’s effect is that “women, whether documented or undocumented, who are in violent relationships will be far more fearful to deal with the law, the police department, and all other official institutions. They [have seen so much of, and ] deeply fear deportation and the break-up of their families. So even more women and families will [now] go underground. In Arizona, after being in this country for five years, legal permanent residents qualify for Medicaid; this includes children and pregnant women. Five years, however, is a very long time to wait. For the undocumented, it is even worse, as they are only eligible for emergency Medicaid. “Treatment is limited to serious health emergencies such as labor and childbirth. Therefore, most undocumented women forgo routine health care, including prenatal care and other preventive reproductive health services.
“With respect to abortion, undocumented immigrant women’s access to safe abortion care is even more limited than their access to [other] sexual and reproductive health services. The fact is that abortion through safe and legal channels has numerous barriers, including but not only economic barriers, and has become inaccessible for many low-income and immigrant Latinas.” This then leads many women to self-abort using misoprostol, which is accessible and well-known as an abortifacient in their home countries. In Latin America, abortion is virtually illegal, women refer to misoprostol as “star pills” for their hexagonal shape, and where its use as a “do-it-yourself abortion tool” to self-induce abortion is known as “bringing your period down.” The use of the “star pills” turns a secretive and stigmatized procedure into a process that resembles a miscarriage...and it is all done without any medical supervision. Yes, this occurs even in the United States, where abortion has been legal~but highly restricted and essentially inaccessible~throughout the country since 1973.
NLIRH boldly and eloquently speaks out on immigrant rights and reproductive justice as intersecting issues that require movement unity and mutual advocacy:
“There are 17.5 million immigrant women in the United States today, 3 million of whom are undocumented, and 16 percent of whom live in poverty. These women encounter obstacles to employment and health access; they also face violence and discrimination....Immigrant rights and reproductive justice are intrinsically linked because the reproductive health of immigrant women is profoundly affected by immigration policy.
“Advocates of fair immigration reform are demanding the right to: live in our society without fearing deportation and discrimination; have access to our educational, health, and safety-net programs and systems; and work with basic protections and benefits, including health care coverage. Reproductive justice activists are similarly fighting for women’s equal opportunity to fully participate in society, the freedom to determine the course of their lives, and the right and ability to access basic reproductive health services free of discrimination, harassment, and shame. Both our progressive social agendas have been called ‘radical’ and out of the mainstream. We know, however, that our shared values of self-determination and the freedom to live our lives with dignity are anything but radical.
“Immigration rights and abortion rights are two of the most volatile issues of our time. The anti-immigrant and anti-choice movements have been vey successful over the last several years at eroding basic rights at the state and federal levels....In this very hostile political environment, advocates for reproductive rights and immigrant rights must support each other. We must work together to stop efforts to criminalize immigrants and criminalize abortion...We must work together and support each other in our common quest for salud, dignidad, justicia [health, dignity, and justice].”
As yet another example of the important connections between these issues that impact all women, Russell Pearce, the Republican state Senator who was the major force behind SB 1070 has even bigger, and even more devastating, dehumanizing ideas that he intends to set into motion. He intends to push for an “anchor baby” bill that would essentially overturn the 14th Amendment by no longer granting citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants who were born in the United States. (“Anchor babies” is a derogatory and yet another fear-mongering politically charged term used by the right to disparage the U.S citizen children of undocumented parents.) Although this offensive and divisive assault on a long-established constitutional right - birthright citizenship - will undoubtedly not pass such scrutiny, Pearce actually has the support of some of his Arizona constituents. Pearce openly agreed with one of his misguided followers who wrote to him in blatant sexist and racist terms: “If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist (writer’s note: yes, it is!), but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do.” Pearce also has the support of several U.S. senators. In fact, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently told Fox News~also using blatant sexist and racist terms~ that “We can’t just have people swimming across the river having children here. That’s chaos.”
What’s truly chaotic, of course, is the lack of a humane immigration policy, the persistent attacks on reproductive rights, and the utter disregard for human rights and respect for women, immigrants, and our lives and dignity. What’s chaotic and very clear is that this type of language and beliefs divides the country, spreads false information about women, immigrants, reproductive rights, and immigrant rights, and serves to whip up the conservative electorate in time for them to be led by the fear of false prophets in preparation for the upcoming November election. What’s chaotic and shocking is that both immigrant rights and abortion rights may ultimately land on the desks of the U.S. Supreme Court justices as they ponder the constitutionality of these relentless and oppressive right-wing assaults on our society.
And that, of course, could undoubtedly result in the most far-reaching societal chaos of all.