Immigration Reform: Women and mothers must weigh in
By Giselle Fernandez
from Los Angeles,CA
As I watch these heartbreaking images of mothers and children from the Americas pile up on our doorstep, I can't help but ask where the nation's top women leadership has been to weigh in on the dire need for immigration reform. Women and families are at the core of this crisis yet no woman, or Latina for that matter, in a decision making role is at the table, in the Gang of Eight or otherwise. The omission is glaring and the need dire. Immigration reform is a woman's issue and always has been.
When record deportations continually break up families, it's the children left alone across this nation who suffer most.
Our hearts break over images of these kids in cages in Texas and California, but there are thousands of kids you don't see who have been detained behind bars in INS detentions centers across the country for years. They are as young as five, ten and into their teens, growing up in cells without access to lawyers or representation. There are no laws in place to ensure their advocacy. Many of these kids feet don't even hit the floor when in court. They are too small.
While this alarming onslaught has put our immigration crisis on steroids, it has been at crisis levels for years - just not in full view as it is now.
The Right and mostly men have hijacked this discussion for too long. Their focus and diatribe is always on border security, when most undocumented in this country didn't sneak across the desert or the Rio Grande, their papers expired in a broken system that needs fixing. They say Latino immigrants are an economic burden, when it's proven the immigrant work force is the engine of this economy and the promise of the future.
At least this border crisis thrusts all into full view, laying out the human calamity at stake and the desperate need for reform as never before.
I can only see this unfolding tragedy from the perspective of a woman and as a mother. I adopted my child from Guatemala 8 years ago before their adoption program was shut down due to corruption and baby selling. It was dangerous to travel there because of drug cartels, gangs and traffickers.
I see my baby girl in the face of every child detained at our border. I hurt for the mothers, the women who make up the core of these arrivals. I understand what drove them here. I can't imagine the peril they faced on their journey.
No matter the lethal narrative characterizing these families as leaches and opportunists, a mother's gut knows this can't be driven by economics alone. This onslaught is fueled by a mother's ferocity to save her babies.
America is the biggest consumer of the drugs and trafficking in Central America which is now ripping apart their world and driving families to our gates. We are complicit in this tragedy. We can't absorb all these immigrants, but we can have a policy in place to receive and process their dreams and desperation respectfully.
We can't disassociate ourselves from them or dehumanize them any longer. We are intertwined. We mothers in America entrust immigrant mothers to care for our kids, clean our homes, pick our vegetables and serve our meals, while their kids are left alone. We experience their sacrifice daily and benefit through their service.
When will we wake up? It's been all around us. We choose not to see.
On a 90 plus degree morning here in Los Angeles I saw a petite Guatemalan woman trudging her way from the bus stop all the way up the canyon. I turned my car around, rolled down the window and asked in Spanish where she was headed.
To the top of Mulholland, an hour and a half's walk up the hill to work where she cares for a child and cleans house. She is paid 9 dollars an hour with no overtime, finishes at 9pm and makes her way down in the dark to catch the last bus. All to send money back to her own child she has not seen for 5 years.
I asked why her employer doesn't pick her up or drive her back to the bus stop. She says they are too busy.
You would think witnessing children in crisis on our borders would awaken a new understanding. You would think it would fuel immediate action on reform at last. But even the killing of innocents at Sandy Hook didn't budget gun control either. There were not enough mothers at that table either.
If nothing else, let this serve as a clarion call to women of both parties. Mothers, especially now, are called to wield their immense power and engage forcefully in the call for reform. There are 75 million mothers in the U.S., all of whom influence 85 percent of household purchases. That is 2.1 trillion in annual spending. Surely that is enough to sway votes if we engage. And we must. Incendiary politics has to end.
I ask women and mothers of all parties to join forces in solidarity. Raise your voices to force the passage of responsible Immigration Reform. Leverage your buying power. Organize. Rally. Hold your legislators responsible. Break this deadlock.
We are the ones who must re-frame this debate. The lives of women, children and families hang in the balance. We have been left out of this conversation too long.