Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Arizona-Style Laws An Attack on Women and Children

In response to frustration with the federal government’s lack of a coherent immigration policy, state legislatures across the country are considering several Arizona-style immigration bills to require or allow law enforcement officers to demand proof of immigration status from anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. Although the well-being of women and children isn’t usually the first thing that springs to mind as an immigration issue, the reality is that these types of laws put women and children in harm’s way.

Officers could be forced to interrogate all brown-skinned people, anyone speaking in accented English or Spanish – most of whom will be American citizens or legal residents. The courts are currently reviewing the constitutionality of potentially institutionalizing racial profiling, largely blocking sections of the original Arizona law from enforcement.

Regardless of how you feel about these laws, the truth is that women and children are the ones who have the most to lose if these bills pass. Families will be torn apart, children will be traumatized, domestic violence survivors will be silenced and workplace abuse will increase. Furthermore, these bills will undermine public safety for all of us.

Tearing Families Apart: Traffic cops targeting drivers for potential deportation means mothers are taken away from their children – often children who are U.S. citizens – splitting up families in pursuit of enforcement of a broken immigration system. A mother dropping her children off at school or child care in the morning doesn’t know if she’ll be there to pick them up in the afternoon. Children have been separated from parents who are detained and eventually deported; others have been removed from their parents’ homes and placed in foster care. These families endure harsh economic and emotional hardship.

Traumatizing Children: Children experience severe psychological trauma when separated from their primary caretakers. A 2010 Urban Institute report documented this: “The vast majority of children whose parents were detained in ICE raids in the workplace and in the home exhibited multiple behavioral changes in the aftermath of parental detention, including anxiety, frequent crying, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal and anger…Disturbingly, the children also experienced dramatic increases in housing instability and food insecurity, which are both dimensions of basic well-being.”

In a Congressional hearing, 11 year-old Heidi Ruby Portugal described her reaction after her mother was seized in Arizona, “They took away the most precious thing that children have, our mother. With one hit they took away my smile and my happiness.”

Silencing Survivors of Domestic Violence: These laws actually increase the threat to women facing domestic violence or sexual assault. Domestic violence survivors will be reluctant to call the police for fear of deportation, sometimes leading to fatal consequences. Survivors of sexual assault will avoid hospitals and services, fearing the involvement of the police. This is particularly dangerous for immigrant women who already face so many barriers, including language access and cultural stigmas that may make it less likely that they will seek services.

Discriminating Against Women in the Workplace: Abusive employers who violate wage, sexual harassment and discrimination laws – laws that protect everyone who works in our country – will benefit from these measures. Immigrant women will be vulnerable to employers using the threat of deportation to control and exploit them professionally and sexually. An Arizona-style law will silence women from speaking out, from reporting crimes and violations of workplace rights.

Undermining of Public Safety: Most police chiefs and law enforcement experts agree that public safety is hurt when trust between immigrant communities and the police is replaced by fear. If police participate in immigration enforcement programs, crime victims and witnesses will be unwilling to come forward and report crime. This makes the entire community less safe.

Our immigration system is clearly not working but our time is far better spent promoting policies that help position ALL women and families to live the American dream, like policies to help close the pay gap so women can support their children now and prepare for an economically secure retirement tomorrow, and workplace standards like paid sick days that protect jobs and income for workers when faced with illness, domestic violence and sexual assault. Let’s not pass laws that attack women and children.

-Linda Meric, 9to5 Executive Director

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