Our VoiceImmigration

The Immigrant Woman Story

Jill Garvey • May 15, 2009

Women as immigrants are just beginning to be recognized, but that hasn’t lessened the dual hardships of womanhood and immigration. Whether it be through detention, poverty, domestic abuse, or discrimination; the challenges many American women face are compounded for immigrant women. A recent poll released by New America Media dives deep into the real lives and impact of immigrant women on this nation:

The story of migration, as it has traditionally been told, has been a masculine epic. But in the latter part of the 20th century, as women began immigrating to America in ever-growing numbers, the migration story became increasing a woman’s tale as well. Women are now on the move, as much as men. But their narrative is different from that of their male predecessors -– they are migrating not as lone individuals but as members, even heads, of families, determined to keep family bonds intact even as they travel great distances and adapt to new cultures.

Until the last half of the 20th century, there was a great gender imbalance, with males predominating in the migrant stream. Today, this balance has shifted to the point that women actually comprise half or more of the immigrants entering this country. Equally dramatic, women now make up more than half of the migrant population worldwide.

While immigrant women are more proactive about gaining citizenship and civic engagement in general, they are also more vulnerable to an immigration and detention system that leaves little room for humanity and is rife with abuse. A recent article in IPS News highlights the trauma women in particular are subjected to in places like Maricopa County:

Broken arms, dislocated jaws, intimidation and vulgarities are part of the daily routine immigrant woman experience in Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) jails, human and civil rights organisations charge.

MCSO is currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department over alleged abuses of a section of immigration law known as 287(g) that allows the federal government to deputise local police to enforce immigration law.

“The abuse of these powers within the jails is worse than in the street,” said Salvador Reza, an organiser with the pro-immigrant group Puente that has been monitoring the alleged mistreatment. “If we were able to stop torture in Guantanamo Bay, we should be able to do that in Maricopa County,” he added.

Months ago on this blog, Melissa Ross wrote movingly about the hardships facing immigrant women, saying:

The violence and abuse immigrant women face on a daily basis in the United States are challenged, mostly in solitude, by the immigrant rights movement. By and large, the women’s movement has failed to stand in solidarity with the women who suffer under anti-immigrant activity. Why haven’t more women leaders and women’s organizations added their voices to the national dialogue and opposed the push for stricter immigration enforcement practices and the dehumanization they portend?

The women’s rights movement over the last several decades has largely been about equal rights and equal treatment. But women, always on the frontline, are the most deeply and intimately impacted by systems and institutions wrought with injustice. The tragedies suffered by Juana Villegas and other immigrant women are intolerable in a just society, yet without women of conscience taking a stand, these violent practices will undoubtedly continue.

As evidenced by the terror that immigrant women face in the United States, the struggle for women’s rights is not over. It will take the efforts of women throughout the country to ensure that all women, whatever their “status”, live in a safe and just environment.

We may not have all the answers yet to the myriad issues facing immigrant women, but a few things are clear: they are essential to the health of immigrant and American communities at-large, and their cause should be championed by women everywhere.

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