Christine Poquiz, Resident Blogger (’12, University of California, Davis School of Law)
It was a little surreal meeting Gloria Steinem, someone I’ve read and heard about and idolized my entire life. Even though she denies it, she IS a feminist icon.So it was definitely a fangirl moment hearing her talk about immigration reform at the National Press Club where, in 1972, she became its first female speaker. While Steinem was in Washington, D.C. to receive her Presidential Medal of Freedom, she took the time to also speak at a We Belong Together event about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform as a feminist issue.
Joined by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and activists sharing their personal stories, Steinem spoke up on why immigration is a critical feminist issue. “The truth of the matter is, there is an unrealistic portrayal of who immigrants really are. 75 percent of all immigrants are women and children, while 51 percent of all undocumented workers are women… Throughout history, women were the ones who moved. We moved into husbands’ family homes, we moved for a better life, we moved for our children.” She noted that if we traced those paths of women moving, it would look like “lace across our globe,” and that we are all connected by that “lace.”
As a Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), I’ve been working on comprehensive immigration reform policy for the past year. People often ask me “how is immigration connected to reproductive justice?” To me, immigration is so clearly entrenched in reproductive justice that it’s hard for me to understand why people can’t see it. As Steinem mentioned, over 51% of immigrants are women. Our current immigration policies cater to men, devalue women’s work, deny women healthcare and basic labor protections, and separate families. Because of deportation fears, undocumented women are reluctant to report domestic abuse and other crimes against them.
One of the campaigns NAPAWF leads, in partnership with the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance, is the We Belong Together campaign (WBT). WBT highlights the struggles immigrant women face and is uplifting women’s voices and addressing what women need in immigration reform. WBT has also helped mobilize allies in the women’s movement who don’t traditionally focus on immigration, like Moms Rising and the National Council for Jewish Women. WBT momentum has been escalating the past year – from advocacy Hill visits to Senate hearings for immigrant women to mass civil disobediences in front of Congress. The Gloria event last week is a perfect illustration of how WBT brings together unexpected allies.
Senator Hirono, who has been our strongest advocate for women in immigration reform, spoke about her own personal experiences as an Asian woman, and her continuing struggle to speak out and push back against gendered expectations that make us uncomfortable with calling attention to ourselves. Everyday she tells herself, “I’m going to say something!” (I will explore this further in another blog post). During this critical debate on immigration reform, women have been stepping up and speaking out, and we need to continue to do so and urge our sisters to do so. Immigration is a woman’s issue.
While, with just 10 legislative days left in the year, immigration reform seems a little beyond our grasp, these amazing women fueled my motivation, and the motivation of the hundreds of people watching, to get our broken immigration system fixed and make sure women aren’t left out.