This is part of the Latina Week of Action 2011 blog conversation debating the real problem concerning the scapegoating of immigrant women.
The Reproductive Justice Week of Action is back! For the second annual RJ week of action, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and our partner organizations invite you to walk with immigrant women. On Monday, activists across the nation began a week full of events, actions, and discussion on immigrant women and reproductive justice. We will be asking ourselves, what’s the real problem? What are the root causes behind the reproductive justice issues immigrant women are facing today?
Though the needs of immigrants historically have not been centered in the reproductive health movement, this RJ Week of Action is poised to change that. Now, more than ever, we need a reasonable dialogue on immigrants and immigration policy, and we must look to root causes to identify the real problems. Both media and political debates in the last few years have been filled with alarmist, vitriolic, and destructive rhetoric about immigrants, identifying immigrants in general (and often immigrant women specifically) as the source of many of our nation’s ills. But what are the real problems?
Reactionary Immigration Policy
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Policy makers have taken a reactionary approach to immigration, and have promoted policies that cost millions of taxpayer dollars and harm our communities. Lawmakers of both parties have focused on enforcement, with harsh and unjust policies such as 287(g) and Secure Communities, efforts that hurt LGBTQ persons and other marginalized populations disproportionately. They have also focused on deportation, with record numbers of immigrants being deported during the Obama administration. While in deportation proceedings, people are held in immigration detention, and a growing network of private detention centers has been profiting heavily from the increase in deportations. In these facilities, detainees are often sexually assaulted, denied adequate health care, and put in danger or tortured if they are transgender or gender non-conforming. Women are forced to give birth in shackles, and access to reproductive health care can be spotty at best. At the same time, radical right-wing efforts to repeal birthright citizenship and remove or change the 14th amendment of the constitution (which guarantees anyone born on U.S. soil citizenship to this country) seek to vilify and criminalize the reproduction of immigrant women. Hateful terms like “anchor baby” are used to dehumanize mothers and rely on the public’s ignorance of the facts of immigration policy. Policymakers continue to ignore the real problem: a misguided and outdated immigration policy coupled with greedy foreign policy that decimates economies in the global south and displaces communities, who feel forced to leave everything behind in search of work and better lives for their families.
Short-sighted Teen Pregnancy Prevention Efforts
Teen pregnancy prevention programs seem to ignore the context under which young immigrant women are making choices, ignoring the real problems. These efforts often highlight the many obstacles that young women face if they become mothers. Teens are told constantly that if they become pregnant, they’ll likely have to drop out of school, they will live in poverty— in short, their futures will be grim. To protect teens from these hardships, advocates put money and resources— essentially our hope— in advising teens against sex and then abandoning them if they fail to meet our expectations. However, immigrants are disproportionately low-income, have lower access to health care, and are systematically barred from public safety net programs, making access to contraception (and the required doctors’ visits required to get it) very difficult. Many immigrant youth are ineligible for state and federal financial aid, and for those who are eligible even a public college education can prove prohibitively expensive; if we are asking these youth to wait to start their families, but they cannot access higher education, what exactly are we asking them to wait for? Moreover, are we ready to give up on pregnant and parenting youth instead of making sure that systems are in place so that everyone, regardless of whether they have decided to become parents, can succeed? Perhaps the real problem is a matter of access to health care, education opportunities, and economic justice.
Whether you are an immigrant yourself or an ally, we invite you to walk with us to lift the voices of and bring justice to immigrant women, families and LGBTQ folks. Ask policy makers to stop blaming immigrant families and start addressing the real problems. Demand that the Department of Homeland Security halt the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs until the DHS Inspector General completes a comprehensive review of the programs and how they affect our families. In their place, let’s create family-friendly immigration policies that take into account the fact that immigrants and our families are the backbone of our communities.