Reproductive justice organizations on Monday joined immigrant rights groups in calling on President Obama to stop the nationwide raids on Central American families.
Beginning January 2 as part of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 121 asylum seekers in Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina. Most of them were women and children from Central America who fled violence in their countries of origin only to have their asylum claims refused by U.S. immigration court.
ICE has detained and deported children as young as 4 years old, advocates said, and the raids are scheduled to last indefinitely.
In Atlanta, the city hit hardest by the raids, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), in partnership with We Belong Together, a campaign designed “to mobilize women in support of common sense immigration policies,” led a solidarity march on Monday from the ICE field office to the state capitol to demand an immediate halt on the raids. The action is just one of many springing up from San Francisco to New York City in support of the mostly women and children being targeted by DHS’ new initiative.
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Raiding people’s homes to forcibly break families apart is not what our country stands for. Our federal government should not be separating parents from their children. … Invading homes is inhumane and adds to the trauma of these families fleeing violence and oppression. Many recent immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are escaping one of the most dangerous regions in the world. … These minors could be our sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews.
Immigrant rights groups have for years discussed how the immigration system and President Obama’s more than two million deportations primarily affect families, with a popular slogan being, “Obama, don’t deport my Mama.”
In a press release about today’s solidarity march in Atlanta, NAPAWF characterized the targeting of mothers and children as “reproductive injustice,” saying it is “just plain immoral to send children and their families back to face the same harm and danger from which they fled.”
Miriam Yeung, executive director of NAPAWF, told Rewire that these raids are just another example of the reproductive injustices committed against immigrant and migrant women’s bodies.
“Cut out of the Affordable Care Act; subject to the five-year ban; denial of language access; internment and detention without health-care access—there are enormous barriers to the reproductive health of immigrant and migrant women,” Yeung said. “NAPAWF sees the right to parent with dignity as a human right and we know that immigration policies are often used to express society’s prejudices about which bodies are valued and which ones are not.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. In an interview with Rewire, Simpson said what’s happening to Central American families—their “violent stripping away”—is all too familiar in communities of color.
“Throughout history we can see account after account of larger systems of white supremacy really harming communities of color, and this is another example of that. In this particular example we’re talking very specifically about families, about children, about mothers and parents and guardians,” said Simpson. “Reproductive justice understands that in order for us to live this mission we all speak to so boldly—that human rights are self-determined—we have to look at the intersection of the right to have children or not have them … [and we] have to look at the right to parent them in healthy, safe environments. And the environment being created for these families is not healthy and safe.”
“We are causing them to live in fear,” Simpson added. “That is classic reproductive oppression.”
What’s not being discussed enough, the SisterSong executive director said, is how the trauma experienced by migrants can escalate. Many of the women asylum seekers being targeted by DHS were escaping gender-based violence in their countries of origin. During migration, it is believed that 80 percent of women and girls crossing into the United States by way of Mexico are raped during their journey. Forty-eight percent of Latinas report their partner’s violence against them increases upon arriving in the United States, where laws protecting abuse survivors often do not extend to undocumented women.
“Violently ripping families apart with these raids is so traumatic to the development of children and to entire communities,” Simpson said. “It’s going to have long-term impacts on the development of children and on family structures. It’s wrong and unnecessary and doesn’t promote family values. It actually does the opposite by having a damaging effect on the lives of mothers and children.”
A report from the Women’s Refugee Commission and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service found that family detention cannot be carried out humanely; conditions at detention centers are entirely inappropriate for mothers and children; detention traumatizes families, undermines the basic family structure, and has a devastating psycho-social impact; families are detained arbitrarily, without an individualized assessment of flight or security risk and without due consideration for placement into alternatives to detention; and family detention inherently denies due process and impedes migrants’ ability to access the immigration legal system.
“This is violence and it places us, the United States, on the opposite end of what we say this country is supposed to be about. Is freedom and safety only promised to certain people?” Simpson said. “When we look at what we’re doing to immigrant families, it makes you wonder: How are we really defining America? It doesn’t look like this is the land of the free and the home of the brave; it’s the home of the incarcerated and deported and detained. It’s the land of the cowardly and the racist. Politicians espouse that they want to make America great again, and I do too, but I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing.”