Commentary Race

What’s the Real Problem? Xenophobia Keying Attacks on Immigrant Women


Immigrant women in the U.S. face systematic xenophobia non-stop, around-the-clock.

This is part of the Latina Week of Action 2011 blog conversation debating the real problem concerning the scapegoating of immigrant women.

Xenophobia: An unreasonable fear, distrust, or hatred of strangers, foreigners, or anything perceived as foreign or different.

According to this definition of xenophobia, immigrant women in the U.S. are facing it non-stop, around-the-clock.  And it’s not just because they’re immigrants, it’s because immigrant women have multiple identities which have already been perceived  individually by our patriarchal, white, straight, middle class society as different, code for “no value/undesirable.”  Unfortunately, the otherization of immigrant women not only takes place in pop culture, like we’ve seen with racist Halloween costumes, it also takes place in the political sphere. Remember Rep. Louie Gohmert and so-called “terrorist babies”?  This xenophobic rhetoric influences policy.

As we mentioned have before, the “anchor baby” rhetoric has surrounded immigration policy, particularly birthright citizenship and enforcement.  The anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, legitimizes “anchor baby” by actually defining it and then uses it to support “clarifying the meaning of the 14th Amendment.” Earlier this year, State Legislators for Legal Information announced their campaign to introduce a model for state compacts that would create two types of birth certificates depending on the parents’ status in this country and a bill that “narrowly interprets the 14th Amendment.”  Not only is this inefficient and complicates an already complicated broken immigration system, but it further perpetuates a caste system that allows immigrants, particularly immigrant women to be treated as less than. Rep. Lamar Smith’s arsenal of xenophobic legislation, “Keep Our Communities Safe Act” and the “HALT Act,” are two more measure that would prohibit President Obama from granting some relief from deportation, and continue the attacks on immigrant communities.

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The xenophobic rhetoric around birthright citizenship has influenced other national policy discussions. We have the ongoing debate about Medicaid cuts which would further block or eliminate health care access to poor communities of color.  For instance, FAIR believes that immigrants are “swelling” public assistance programs in general. To reality, programs like Medicaid require that legal permanent residents have this status for five years and to produce proof of their resident status to qualify and those who do not have legal documentation aren’t even eligible.  Most public benefits programs have the five year residency requirement, excluding a wide range of immigrants, a number who are paying taxes to support these programs but can’t receive the benefits.

Fortunately, here in the United States multiple organizations have actively called out policymakers on their attacks on immigrant women.  As part of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, NLIRH and others actively advocate for the human rights of immigrant women.  In the upcoming fall, we will release a survey document that analyzes how various immigration policies impact women and will announce our one year campaign to dismantle S-Comm.  In the meantime, go to our website to learn more and advocate for immigrant women!

By Candace Gibson, Legal Intern at NLIRH

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