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“It’s like my mom… doesn’t exist. My mom doesn’t ask too much of her place in society. She just asks to be acknowledged. My greatest fear is my mom being deported.”  (Henry, U.S. citizen whose mother is an undocumented immigrant)

 

I thought of Henry --- and his mother --- when I was asked to participate in this week’s “We Belong Together” Georgia campaign. The campaign brings together female leaders from all walks of life to bear witness to the effects on women, children and families targeted by Georgia’s anti-immigration law. In the way only a child can, Henry gives voice to the millions of undocumented women like his mom who struggle to provide stability for their families in what seems to be increasingly an environment of hate.

 

As a founding member of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, we’ve been working to expose the negative rhetoric and messaging that pervades so much of the public dialogue on immigration. It will come as no surprise to most that immigrants are scapegoated for many of societies ills—this has been the case throughout history.  Reported less frequently in the news, though, is the increasingly charged demonization of immigrant women and by extension their children.

 

According to New America Media, more than half of all immigrants are women and women are increasingly likely to primary breadwinners and primary family care takers. In fact, 90 percent of the immigrant women surveyed said they live in intact families. Immigrant women are more likely to initiate the citizenship process for their families and the vast majority of undocumented parents live in the United States for years before having children.

 

Yet, immigrant women, particularly those of reproductive age, have been specifically accused of exacerbating global warming, raising terrorist babies, and using childbirth to gain citizenship status. Every time an anti-immigrant lawmaker spouts off about “anchor babies” or “alien invaders,” immigrant mothers are wrongfully vilified and dehumanized. Just as in past decades when women of color, mostly black women, were branded as “welfare queens,” the contributions of immigrant women to their families and communities are being ignored in an effort to score cheap political points.

 

And it isn’t simply a case of the school aged rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The ramifications of dehumanizing rhetoric result in restrictive, punitive policies that are felt by generations.  Our forthcoming report - Women in Immigration: Right to Liberty , Right to Family ---  analyzes the intersection of gender and immigration. In this first of its kind, comprehensive review, we found that the impact of immigration policies on women is cumulative rather than additive. Misinformation and lies have led to policies that cut women immigrants – undocumented and documented alike—out of important social programs. This is despite evidence that individuals without current legal papers pay into government as much as others who receive benefits and use these programs less often.  As the New York Times recently reported, the sad reality is that millions of undocumented and mixed status women and children live below the surface in American society--- with little to no access to health care, education, or even food assistance programs.  This should be unacceptable to all of us.

 

So what can we as moms and activists do about it? We can begin by saying No More to the race baiting and misogyny that pervades the public dialogue on immigration. We can raise up the voices of strong women to empower others to fight back against poor working conditions, health disparities, and other injustices. We are standing with the immigrant women of Georgia this week. I hope you will join us.


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