The 12 members of the Women’s Emergency Human Rights Delegation flew in from around the country, to Arizona, and arrived on the ground just before Mother’s Day weekend. There were labor leaders, journalists, organizers and nationally known feminist leaders but they were all there, for three days, united in one cause: to document the stories and experiences of women and their children, after passage of the harshest state immigration law in the country, Arizona’s SB 1070.
Stories like the one of a nine-year old girl who told delegates she arrived home from school one day to find her parents gone – for three months. Stories of single mothers who say they are now terrified, as primary caretakers of their children, that in the wake of SB 1070 they will no longer be able to keep their children safe – to defend them from local law enforcement. Stories of women who, as Grace Chang, author and scholar on immigrant women and one of the delegates put it, have suffered “outrageous and brutal abuses that have been occurring long before the passage of this law”; abuses like being violently beaten by local law enforcement after being rounded-up in “sweeps” and being sexually assaulted by immigration officials.
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The delegates offered local women’s and families stories, spoke of the impact of the trip and next-step strategies and concrete actions on a conference call convened by advocates and organizers including the National Domestic Workers Alliance. One thread ran long and deep. After days spent listening to the testimony of women and children sharing their fears and hopes one urgent message was recurrent: Do not let our words remain here, in Arizona. Please be our microphones, bear witness to our stories and then go out to your own states, your own communities and share what’s happening to our families and all of us, here in Arizona.
One delegate spoke movingly of her sense of the similarity between the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and what’s happening in Arizona – the ways in which our government lays blame at the feet of those who are the most vulnerable, blaming them for their own condition. She saw how clearly, in the testimony from children, mothers, and grandmothers, the Arizona law allows them to be abused, dehumanized, and criminalized in every piece and place of their lives – on the streets, in the workplace, in their schools.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Day Labor Organizing Network and Jobs with Justice led the delegation, according to the Ms. Foundation blog. The conference call gathered groups from across the spectrum of women’s and immigrant rights organizations including Momsrising,org, the National Day Labor Organizing Network, the Immigration Law Clinic, Sistersong, Legal Momentum, Family Values @ Work, the National Council for Research on Women, Domestic Workers United, the United Methodist Church and many more.
The women on the call told of both the fear and the strength of the women, on the ground in Arizona, and the extraordinary courage of their children as well. Marching together, in the streets, telling their stories to advocates, women and children in Arizona are speaking up; not only about the unjust and inhumane SB 1070 but also about what’s been happening in Arizona for years. Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, empowered by the 287g program, a federal policy which gives local law enforcement the authority to act as immigration agents (and which was found last month not to be operating “in compliance” and so has led to the detention of immigrants who pose no threat), has been a well-known and terrifying figure to many residents in his county for many years. Arpaio is infamous for his anti-immigrant, virulently misogynistic tactics which include, most recently, arresting a Latino woman who was 9 months pregnant and allowing her to remain shackled and chained to the bed as she gave birth that same evening, in the hospital. Though nurses begged the Sheriff’s staff to release the woman, they would not oblige and, finally, after the baby was born she remained shackled, barred from even holding her newborn and told that if no one claimed the baby within 72 hours, she would be turned over to state custody.
There is in all of this, a beacon of hope. There are thousands of beacons of hope. Because as the delegates spoke it became clear that women and their families are standing strong not only in opposition to this law and the ways in which immigration enforcement has ravaged their lives thus far but they are standing up for themselves, in support of their rights to love and care for their families, the same thing for which you or I or anyone who lives in this country strives.
Ai-jen Poo, the facilitator on the call, who is the executive director for Domestic Workers United, hopes these actions “can be the spark of a new, renewed movement to turn the tide on immigration enforcement, with stories of women and children at the center. We’re hoping the women’s movement…can take on the campaign working against laws like SB 1070.”
Specifically, the delegates are working on or in support of the organization of A National Day of Action on May 29th; they are also, according to a statement put out by the delegates recently, “…asking the leaders of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues to hold a hearing for the women of Arizona to come to Washington, DC to tell their stories” and requesting “that First Lady Michelle Obama also commit to meeting with [us] and hearing this testimony.” ¡Alto Arizona! has a petition they are urging people to sign, directed to President Obama urging him to revoke the 287g agreement and to, essentially, disregard anyone who has been arrested under SB1070 (which goes into effect in July). And the ACLU and other civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit against SB1070, challenging its consitutionality.
As cities and municipalities line up in opposition to or in support of the Arizona law, passing resolutions to boycott the state or affirming support, advocates remind us that what’s happening in Arizona not only has the potential to be replicated in other states, but similar laws are being proposed around the country. It’s up to women’s rights advocates to join the movement and turn on our microphones, broadcasting the voices and stories of the women of Arizona loud and clear for the entire country to hear.