Molly Lindsey is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.
Last month, the Trump administration announced an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a U.S. initiative implemented by former President Barack Obama, which provides temporary protection to young migrants. The federal program specifically provides rights for persons brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Those protected can live normal lives, work or study, and are deferred from potential deportation for two years. Individuals must apply for the program; they must also pass a background check and have completed, or be in the process of completing, either school or military service. Migrants protected under DACA are known widely in the U.S. as “Dreamers”. Trump’s decision to end the program will leave over 800,000 Dreamers absent rights and protections in 6 months’ time. The ending of DACA comes with great concern for American Immigrants, and myriad consequences for female migrants uniquely.
Reproductive Justice is defined by Loretta Ross and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective as “complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights”. Immigrants deserve common human decency and basic human rights regardless of legal status. There is an undeniable link between a woman’s community and her reproductive health. This is to say that the conditions of any woman’s life directly dictate her real-life experiences. Whether or not a woman has social support, government protections, personal agency and respect, determines whether or not the individual has safe and accessible options. Migrant women in the U.S. face uncertainty, living in fear constantly. The end of DACA, a program with a slight majority of female recipients (roughly 52%), heightens this anxiety. Absent DACA, undocumented women in America will lose any access to reproductive health care, the ability to provide for themselves and/or their families, economic security, as well as their rights. This is not only unsafe, it is unjust and inhumane.
In February of this year, an undocumented transgender woman was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), while attempting to seek asylum and report a domestic abuse situation in which she was the victim. The woman was in a Texas courthouse at the time of her deportation. Legal workers, experts, and advocates alike believe this sets a problematic precedent in the states where immigrants absent documentation will be disinclined to report crimes or prioritize their own well-being. This made national news and since, many migrant women have dropped domestic abuse complaints with fear of being detained by ICE.
Battered immigrant women who attempt to flee unsafe situations may not have access to bilingual shelters, financial support, or food and water. It is also unlikely that they will have the backing of a qualified interpreter in court, when speaking with the police or an emergency line operator, or even in obtaining information about their rights and the legal system. Unfortunately, common crimes that disproportionately affect women (rape, sexual assault, workplace assault and discrimination, among others), will continue to occur in the lives of undocumented females in the states absent a safe, fair, and inclusive legal system. Additionally, it is not uncommon for abusive partners to use a woman’s immigration status to keep her in an abuse relationship.
Futures Without Violence reports that an abuser will “exert control over his partner’s immigration status to force her to remain in the relationship”. The same organization found in one New York study, that 51% of intimate partner homicide victims were migrants. In 2015, 45 percent of immigrants (19.5 million people) reported having Hispanic or Latino origins. Forty-eight percent of Latinas reported that their partner’s violence against them had increased since they immigrated to the United States.
A study from 2010 found that of a random sample of 150 female migrants working in agriculture in Central Valley, California, 80% experienced sexual harassment or assault. A similar study in the food industry in several states found that these issues were pervasive, yet somewhat normalized as danger that must be faced to make a living. This inhumane treatment is what these women believe they must endure for fear of being deported, fired, hurt, or threatened. Absent Programs like DACA, there are little to no opportunities for these individuals to have a safe workplace, job security, or any legal protections whatsoever.
In light of other recent events in the United States, the implications of ending DACA are largely magnified. Texas is home to many undocumented Latin American migrants’ due to its shared border with Mexico. Hurricane Harvey, a major natural disaster in Texas, left undocumented victims without food, water, and shelter, and with a constant fear of deportation. ICE was reported leaving roughly 50 undocumented women and children stranded after the storm at a bus stop in San Antonio. Additionally, the Trump administration and the President specifically have taken stances and drafted policy that, coupled with the recent DACA announcement, create an extremely hostile environment for U.S. immigrants. Since Trump’s Presidency, U.S. deportations have increased by 34%, and are expected to continue rising.
It is crucial to consider status quo immigration policy in the U.S., as well as discourse and platforms represented and defended by the Trump administration. Migrant women face systematic discrimination, discouraging them from entering the U.S. legally. The current American immigration system prioritizes STEM professions, a field in which women are severally underrepresented. Only 16% of female graduates hold a degree in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) globally. Additionally, 70 percent of migrant women receive residence in the U.S. via family-based visas. These details make the end to programs such as DACA uniquely detrimental to women who are already grossly disadvantaged.
Currently, DACA recipients are being used as leverage in the immigration debate. While a new solution is being searched for, activists and immigrants of various status are advocating for a “clean” Dream Act. This act would provide a clear path to citizenship and would remove immigrants from the center of political bargaining.
Center for American Progress. (2017). 5 Ways Immigration Justice Is Reproductive Justice – Center for American Progress. [online] Available at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2017/10/10/439514/5-ways-immigration-justice-reproductive-justice/ [Accessed 09 Oct. 2017].
Global Gender Gap Report 2016. (2017). Gender parity and human capital. [online] Available at: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/gender-parity-and-human-capital/ [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].
Migrationpolicy.org. (2017). Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States. [online] Available at: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states#Demographic [Accessed 08 Oct. 2017].
Ross, L. (2017). Reproductive Justice Briefing Book: A Primer on Reproductive Justice and Social Change. [online] Law.berkeley.edu. Available at: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/php-programs/courses/fileDL.php?fID=4051 [Accessed 11 Oct. 2017].
Southern Poverty Law Center. (2017). Sexual Exploitation a Constant Threat for Immigrant Food Workers. [online] Available at: https://www.splcenter.org/news/2011/04/18/sexual-exploitation-constant-threat-immigrant-food-workers [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].
Women At Risk, Intl. (2017). What Goes Unseen. [online] Available at: https://warinternational.org/what-goes-unseen/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].