by Nezua, TMC MediaWire Blogger
Celebrated stories of early American pioneers, explorers, and immigrants typically center around men of fortitude and bravery. Depictions of modern-day migrants are still very male-centric, and this cultural lens is a default in most cases. But women play a central and overlooked role in today's immigration story. Even when not directly highlighted, women often bear the weight of keeping families together and helping them grow stronger.
New America Media has just released the results of a poll titled “Women Immigrants: Stewards of the 21st Century.” NAM surveyed 1,002 female immigrants from Latin American, Asian, African, and Arab countries. According to Sandy Close and Richard Rodriguez, "The story that has not been told is the story of the woman immigrant. This poll is an effort to capture her narrative, and what becomes clear in the responses–many to questions that seemed on their face to have nothing to do with family per se–is that the gold thread giving meaning to her life is family stewardship."
The poll reveals that the typical model of migration, in which the man left to find work and send home money, has changed. Women are assuming head of the household duties, even if in their prior situation they were in less of a leadership role. The women interviewed for the poll named "securing family stability" as the most important motivator for seeking U.S. citizenship.
NAM also features a number of articles that break down the poll's findings, all available on the Immigration Ladder. Some feature short videos such as the one below, titled Family, Work and Progress -- Latina Immigrants Speak. In this video, Latinas talk about why they came to the U.S. The reasons range from political asylum to simply being able to raise and feed their children. These are hard-hitting pieces because we can see and hear people tell their own story in their own words.
A common line spouted by those in favor of a strong enforcement agenda is that immigrants come here to 'steal' or 'take' our jobs. The focus is on an abstract, shadowy fence-hopper from Latin America who encroaches on turf and swipes resources. Ironically, there is never a mention of NAFTA and the effect it has had on the Latin American economy in these particular discussions! Perhaps no families would need to migrate north if unfair economic practices hadn't taken so many jobs from Mexico, Guatemala, and the rest of Latin America.
Quite different than recycled stock footage of a man sliding over a busted-up border fence, NAM's poll and videos present the truth in its plain and sorry reality. While it may make for less thrilling copy, it's important to hear a mother talk about leaving a child behind so that she can forge a better path for them both, or about being alone in a strange place with nobody to help; about spending as much on long-distance phone calls to your children as you would on bringing them across the border.
These stories are important. Watching and reading human dramas that demand emotional engagement combat the anti-immigration punditry's characterization of immigrants. As a result, a question forms that won't go away: Why are these women alone in their struggle? If they were perceived as U.S. citizens, we would move mountains to come to their aid. It isn't surprising that some Feminists strongly support immigration, though there is an ongoing debate.
Enforcement tactics are also devastating on a large scale. Writing for the American Forum, Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas paints a clear picture of how the tactics deployed supposedly in the name of U.S. "security" do nothing to secure either happiness, safety, or a sound economy.
In Wiretap, 15-year-old Lupe Carreno tells about the day ICE took her father from her own home, and what that means to her life today: "When they began to walk down the stairs with my dad, it hit me. This could be the last time I see him for a long time. I looked away. I didn't want to see them take my dad. When I looked down the stairs and didn't see them anymore, I cried. My mom and my aunt told me not to cry, but this made me cry even more. The whole event only took 15 minutes."
Lupe's family has medical problems, but her father's insurance is no longer there. The enforcement agenda has transformed a happy, cohesive family unit into a fractured cluster of pain and fear. Lupe lives in uncertainty now and worries her mother may be deported any day.
As in Lupe's case, there are weaknesses in the system that do not provide for those with medical needs. Such as in the case of Xiu Ping Jiang, a Chinese immigrant who fled to the U.S. after being forcibly sterilized for having a second child. In Immigration Limbo for the Mentally Ill, Wiretap's Brittany Shoot tells how Jiang was separated from her children by immigration officers, and shortly after, fell into a depression. Being an immigrant, she had no state-funded legal counsel to represent her. "This has caused her case to be drawn out for more than a year while she languishes in a detention center," Shoot writes. "With a history of attempted suicide, her family members in the States grow increasingly fearful that they will lose their fragile sister inside the system."
Will telling Xiu Ping Jiang's story produce more than "[o]ne day of frenzied blogging" following the original reportage? Shoot seems to doubt it.
Returning to New America Media, we have the story What Am I Without My Leg? Eglis, an undocumented immigrant, lost her leg to an uninsured driver and is struggling to live with the consequences. Eglis' story is a brutal example of the healthcare gap for immigrant women.
Finally, the Colorado Independent reports on a bill sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein D-Calif. that would create "a special 'blue card' status for undocumented immigrants who’ve worked a minimum number of hours in the agriculture sector in the past two years." Some immigration advocates would call this a success. But true progress includes acknowledging in law and public dialogue what such a move truly indicates: That immigrants are not a threat to our nation, but in fact, a crucial and needed part of our way of life. Without them, we fall apart. This is what happens when you remove a mother from a family. This is what happens when you remove a workforce from a factory in Postville, Iowa. And this is what will happen if we continue to punish or forcibly remove immigrants from our nation.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration.