Women’s Groups Fighting Arizona’s Immigration Law

Amie Newman

Twelve members of the Women’s Emergency Human Rights Delegation flew to Arizona to document the stories and experiences of women and their children, after passage of the harshest state immigration law in the country.

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.

¡Alto Arizona! Celia’s family torn apart by 287G from Barni Qaasim on Vimeo.

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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.  

News Human Rights

Women’s Groups Push Republicans on Immigration Reform

Emily Crockett

We Belong Together, a campaign to mobilize women in support of immigration reform, plans to push back against a consensus that there will be no movement on immigration reform this year.

Leading women’s rights and immigration reform advocates announced Wednesday that they plan to turn up the heat on Republicans in the U.S. House who are standing in the way of immigration reform.

Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) joined organizers of We Belong Together, a campaign to mobilize women in support of immigration reform, on a press call discussing the group’s plans to push back against a consensus that there will be no movement on immigration reform this year. The group plans a month of fasting and other protest activities in March, and will soon release data on which congressional districts could be swayed by women voters who are mobilized on immigration.

“Women and children are disproportionately affected by our broken system,” said DelBene. About 75 percent of immigrants in the United States are women and children.

“Mothers are separated from their children when they are detained and deported, domestic violence victims fear reporting their abuser because of their immigration status,” said Chu.

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Both representatives said that the votes are there to pass immigration reform in Congress, but that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is standing in the way.

When asked how the coalition plans to have any effect when reform this year is widely understood to be dead, Pramila Jayapal, chair of We Belong Together, said that if the Republican leadership “really looks at the cost” of not moving immigration forward, they might realize their mistake. “The timeline cannot be dictated by a small group of people,” she said.

Ana Garcia-Ashley, executive director of the grassroots faith-based organization the Gamaliel Foundation, said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has shifted his views somewhat after taking consistent meetings with her community.

“It is public pressure that can change things,” Chu said. “Look at Hurricane Sandy. There would not have been a vote on that had there not been public outrage.”

Maria Galvan, an undocumented mother of two, shared her experiences with reporters on the call. She said that while she is grateful for the temporary protections her children will receive under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), it is not enough.

“Our family is still not safe,” she said. “I know DACA is only temporary, and my husband and I could be deported at any moment.”

News Sexuality

Elected Officials Speak Out Against NYC’s Sex Ed Mandate

Martha Kempner

Calling the program "graphic and explicit," three local politicians spoke out yesterday against the city's sex ed mandate at a protest rally (or maybe it was just a press conference) in Brooklyn.

See our other reports on New York City’s sex ed program here.

It looks like last week’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, in which Robert George and Melissa Moschella argue that sex education undermines parental rights and authority, seems to have fueled a new controversy over New York City’s mandate for sex education which was announced in August.  Yesterday, three local politicians spoke out against the mandate at what has been alternatively described as a a rally or a press conference in Brooklyn. 

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) joined Representatives Bob Turner (R-Queens/Brooklyn) and Michael Grimm (R-Brooklyn/Staten Island) today in calling the program “explicit and graphic” and demanding the school system provide an abstinence-based alternative.  In a written statement, Malliotakis acknowledged the need for sex ed but argued that this particular curriculum is being forced on children by the New York Department of Education.  Turner added that parents had no say in the mandate and that, “The Archdiocese of New York, Orthodox Jewish groups, Muslims, many are saying this is a sensitive and delicate subject, and they want more say in what is taught.”

The event yesterday was largely informed by a group called the Parents Choice Coalition, which is adamantly opposed to the mandate.  The group’s executive director is a former Democratic Assemblyman from the Bronx, Michael Benjamin.  He argued: “New York is a multicultural city whose residents hold a variety of deeply held beliefs and social traditions. It’s wrong to force them to choose between what the city is planning and no sex education at all.” 

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While his argument sounds reasonable and I applaud him for realizing that all young people should have some sex education, his coalition is spreading misleading information about the materials that have been suggested for use in the city’s schools.  For example, his website includes a video showing a condom being put onto a model which it describes as “the kind of condom demonstration your child will experience,” when in fact young people in middle school and high school will not see condom demonstrations as part of the sex ed course.  Instead, they will be given verbal instructions on how to use them.  Condom demonstrations (and condoms) are available to students in resource rooms as they have been for a number of years.

The group has also posted scanned copies of activities related to abortion and condom use that it calls explicit and railed against certain websites, in particular Go Ask Alice, that the suggested curriculum include as additional resources. The coalition’s financial backer, Greg Pfundstein of the anti-choice Chiaroscuro Foundation, argued that these activities are inappropriate: “You don’t have to be some religious fanatic to not want your ninth-grader comparison price-shopping for condoms at the local store.”

Benjamin suggests that parents just want a “traditional abstinence-based program” for their children.  In many ways, the program that is in place, however, is just that. In fact, I would argue that any good sexuality education program is abstinence-based as it should help young people see the benefits of remaining abstinent and explain that abstinence is the best and most effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  But programs can’t just discuss abstinence – as research on strict abstinence-only-until-marriage programs show them to be ineffective at best and potentially harmful at worst. 

School Chancellor Dennis Walcott points out that “abstinence is a very important part of the curriculum, but,” he adds, “we also have a responsibility to ensure that teenagers who are choosing to have sex understand the potential consequences of their actions and know how to keep themselves safe.” He explained that this is why the school chose a comprehensive curriculum, and went on to say:  “Abstinence is the only way to be 100 percent safe, but one-third of the new cases of chlamydia in NYC are in teenagers and a significant percentage of our teenagers have had multiple sexual partners, so we can’t stick our heads in the sand about this.”  

It’s unclear how many people turned out for the rally/press conference yesterday but given the Chancellor’s reaction to critics it seems unlikely that this new round of protests will have any impact on the city’s long-in-the-works and long-overdue decision to require sex education. 

It looks like last week’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, in which Robert George and Melissa Moschella argue that sex education undermines parental rights and authority, seems to have fueled a new controversy over New York City’s mandate for sex education which was announced in August.  Today, three local politicians spoke out against the mandate at what has a been alternatively described as a a rally or a press conference in Brooklyn. 

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) joined Representatives Bob Turner (R-Queens/Brooklyn) and Michael Grimm (R-Brooklyn/Staten Island) today in calling the program “explicit and graphic” and demanding the school system provide an abstinence-based alternative.  In a written statement, Malliotakis acknowledged the need for sex ed but argued that this particular curriculum is being forced on children by the New York Department of Education.  Turner added that parents had no say in the mandate and that, “The Archdiocese of New York, Orthodox Jewish groups, Muslims, many are saying this is a sensitive and delicate subject, and they want more say in what is taught.”

The event today was largely informed by a group called the Parents Choice Coalition, which is adamantly opposed to the mandate.  The group’s executive director is a former Democratic Assemblyman from the Bronx, Michael Benjamin.  He argued: “New York is a multicultural city whose residents hold a variety of deeply held beliefs and social traditions. It’s wrong to force them to choose between what the city is planning and no sex education at all.” 

While his argument sounds reasonable and I applaud him for realizing that all young people should have some sex education, his coalition is spreading misleading information about the materials that have been suggested for use in the city’s schools.  For example, his website shows a video showing a condom being put onto a model which it describes as “the kind of condom demonstration your child will experience,” when in fact young people in middle school and high school will not see condom demonstrations as part of the sex ed course.  Instead, they will be given verbal instructions on how to use them.  Condom demonstrations (and condoms) are available to students in resource rooms as they have been for a number of years.

The group has also posted scanned copies of activities related to abortion and condom use that it calls explicit and railed against certain websites, in particular Go Ask Alice, that the suggested curriculum include as additional resources. The coalition’s financial backer, Greg Pfundstein of the anti-choice Chiaroscuro Foundation, argued that these activities are inappropriate: “You don’t have to be some religious fanatic to not want your ninth-grader comparison price-shopping for condoms at the local store.”

Benjamin suggests that the parents just want a “traditional abstinence-based program” for their children.  In many ways, the program that is in place, however, is just that. In fact, I would argue that any good sexuality education program is abstinence-based as it should help young people see the benefits of remaining abstinent and explain that abstinence is the best and most effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  But programs can’t just discuss abstinence – as research on strict abstinence-only-until-marriage programs show them to be ineffective at best and potentially harmful at worst. 

School Chancellor Dennis Walcott points out that “abstinence is a very important part of the curriculum, but,” he adds, “we also have a responsibility to ensure that teenagers who are choosing to have sex understand the potential consequences of their actions and know how to keep themselves safe.” He explained that this is why the school chose a comprehensive curriculum, and went on to say:  “Abstinence is the only way to be 100 percent safe, but one-third of the new cases of chlamydia in NYC are in teenagers and a significant percentage of our teenagers have had multiple sexual partners, so we can’t stick our heads in the sand about this.”  

It’s unclear how many people turned out for the rally/press conference yesterday but given the Chancellor’s reaction to critics it seems unlikely that this new round of protests will have any impact on the city’s long-in-the-works and long-overdue decision to require sex education.