Why We Got Arrested: Women and Immigration Reform

4 years ago

“There are more women than we thought.”

Those were the words of the sergeant in charge of the two dozen Capitol Police officers who were sent out to arrest us. That’s when we both paused and looked around and realized that indeed, almost the entire first line behind the banner that said “Keep Families Together – Immigration Reform Now” was being held up by women leaders. This is not an accident. Three quarters of immigrants to the U.S. today are women and children. And women all across the country realize that just and fair immigration policies are central to women’s equality.

Image Credit: We Belong Together

For us, this fight is personal. We both have daughters who are two and four years old. And last week, we both got arrested. We had the privilege of knowing that at some point that evening, the next day, or that next week, we would be able to hug our girls again. But millions of immigrant moms experience the terrifying reality that once handcuffs are put on them, they might never get the chance to hug their child again.  Over 1,000 people are deported every day in the United States.

On Thursday August 1, we joined with over 46 labor leaders, and immigrant advocates, environmental activists, people of faith, and DREAMERS and we blocked the street in front of Congress while 300 allies and four Congresspeople witnessed and cheered us on.  We were each arrested, and it was a proud moment of joining in the deep-rooted American tradition of civil disobedience. With our action we were sending a message to House Republicans to give us a vote on immigration reform, on citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in this country.

During our meeting that morning, Deepak Bhargarva led us in a moment of silence – asking us to think about people we wanted to honor with our action.

We thought about Enma, a mother of three children, who came to the United States to give her children a better life, to put food on the table, clothes on their back, and give them the opportunity to study.   What mother wouldn’t want those things?  But as a result of being undocumented in America, she hasn’t been able to see her children in over seven years. She takes care of American children, and cleans our homes, and carries their pictures with her everywhere.

We thought about Maria, a single mom with five kids.  She has what they call a mixed status family.  Her oldest daughters are in college and her youngest still in elementary school. She takes care of a 96-year-old woman, and says she pours all her love into that job, because she wasn’t able to care for her own grandmother, or hold her hand one last time when she was on her deathbed.  She is about to become a grandmother herself.

We thought about Yolanda who was deported to Mexico and still clutches the t-shirt she was trying to put on her son’s body when immigration officials burst into her home and took her away as her child watched in horror.

As Americans, we honor and celebrate our unique commitment to protecting families, and giving equal opportunities and respect to women and girls. Immigrants like our parents came here to share in that vision. Yet our current immigration policies tear mothers from their children and discriminate against immigrant women. The House of Representatives has a choice: to do nothing and leave this country divided, or to take strides towards a house united for common sense immigration policy reform that treats women fairly and that keeps families together.

Image Credit: We Belong Together

Our work to win common sense immigration reform that treats women and families fairly is not over.  We will continue to organize throughout the August recess and into the Fall until the House produces a comprehensive bill that benefits all 11 million undocumented immigrants.  Because of our current immigration system, too many women have been unable to contribute their full skills and talents to strengthening our country. Too many women and children worry that they will have to continue living in the shadows and that their families will be separated due to outdated laws. 

We want to teach our daughters all kinds of things; to be kind, to tie their shoes, to read and write, and also to stand up for what they believe in, and not turn their backs on injustice.

Andrea Cristina Mercado, National Domestic Workers Alliance

Miriam Yeung, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

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