Profiles in Courage: Immigrant Women

Today, I took off my lawyer hat and my executive director hat. Today, I am simply a woman. A daughter, sister, aunt, partner, co-worker, and friend. Today, I am proud to have been part of 105 very courageous women, many noncitizens, who put a human face on this fight for just and humane immigration reform that keeps families together and creates a road to citizenship for millions of aspiring Americans.

Until today, the immigration debate generally focused on the importance of Congress passing legislation because of the growing power of the Latino vote; the benefits to the economy, particularly the agriculture and high technology sectors; the unfairness of punishing young undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. But today, one of the largest all-women civil disobedience actions in Washington, D.C. in recent history seeks to put a human face on this crucial issue.

We engaged in civil disobedience and were arrested -- some risking deportation -- to remind Congress that immigration reform is not just a political or economic imperative but a civil rights and family issue, and above all, a women's issue.

"We are going to be visible. No more living in the shadows for us, " said one of the brave women. They are DREAM moms, low-wage workers, community leaders, mothers and grandmothers. These women ranged in age from 21 to 74.

When immigration reform is finally enacted -- whenever the House overcomes its political fears about taking on the issue -- these women will stand out as real profiles in courage.

As we protested on Capitol Hill, urging Congress to show it can be a "United House," I thought back to my childhood and how my mother and father strived to keep us together when we came to the U.S. from Colombia. Back then, the immigration system recognized the importance of family unity.

Instead of an open hand of friendship, this generation of immigrants is confronted by a closed fisted immigration system that is too broken to address the needs of families. Yet, they find their way here, work hard, adopt the U.S. as their home country, and teach their children American values and contribute to our communities.

Meanwhile, it is the women and children who bear the brunt of deportations. As one women said, "Today we will hold all the families who have been separated, all those who have been deported, in our hearts. They will give us the strength to keep fighting until we get immigration reform."

Women are at the core of these families. They raise their children and run their households while taking care of our children and homes allowing us to go to work. They pick our fruits and vegetables, make and serve our food at restaurants, and carry out many other essential jobs. They fearlessly stand up for their own rights, as well as for the rights of others, at the workplace. There are about 5.4 million undocumented women in the U.S., and they have the unfortunate distinction of perhaps being the most underpaid members of the labor force in the U.S. because they are doubly disadvantaged: they are women and do not have work authorization.

About 200,000 parents have been forced to leave a child behind because of unfair deportations. At the workplace, at home and in the community, women suffer intolerable violence and abuse. And 5,100 U.S. citizen children have been placed into foster care as a result, and that number could triple in five years under current policies.

These unjust policies are what caused women like "Maria," the mother of three girls, to participate in today's protest. "I am an undocumented Latina immigrant and it is time and just for us to be able to live with dignity," she said.

They, and allies like myself who stand with them, seek a fair immigration system. One that includes a path to citizenship, keeps families together and upholds the family immigration system, provides protections for survivors of violence and against workplace abuses, protects the health and well-being of women and children, honors women's work inside and out of the home, and is not driven by a focus on detention and deportation.

I am in awe of these courageous women and know their risks will take us closer to achieving immigration reform. Now we just need Congress to heed our call and show it is a "House United."

Women members of Congress understand this request, and surely the men in Congress would want this for their wives and families.

So why stand in their way?