Thursday, June 16, 2011

Immigration Is a Feminist Issue

Eva Rivera is a proud lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister and sex worker who can walk in 6 inch heels and twirl naked on a pole in front of total strangers but is still viciously afraid of moths. She hails from Fresno, CA and is a poet and aspiring film maker. You can find her more personal writing on her blog.   

For those of you who may not have heard, Alabama's governor has just signed a bill which aims to destroy the livelihoods and families of undocumented immigrants. This law goes into effect September 1st and would force police to investigate and detain anyone they believe to be undocumented. The law is full of racist tactics like this which effectively criminalize undocumented immigrants and anyone associating with them (such as their family members who may be documented or citizens), by penalizing anyone who transports, hires or even rents to them. The law also targets children by forcing parents to show documentation within 30 days of enrolling their children in primary or secondary school.

You might have to do a double take on that last sentence. Those who drafted this bill are especially proud of themselves for one-upping Arizona, by targeting school children. According to Republican Senator Scott Beason, "That is where one of our largest costs come from". There's plenty who think that this law violates constitutional rights but whether it is actually carried through, the attitude and intention behind it paints an obvious picture of what exactly is going on here.

This cruel law is an extension of the "anchor baby" panic, and a response to women's reproductive rights. A law that would ban children from school based on their parents documentation is a clear statement to women who are undocumented that not only are they not welcome here, but their children aren't even good enough to receive an education. I agree that women shouldn't be defined solely based on motherhood, but those who do choose motherhood, need to be respected and supported for that choice. This includes ensuring that mothers have the resources to give their children adequate healthcare and education.

Alabama's law plays directly on the white fear and panic of brown women reproducing. A common anti-immigration trope, is that undocumented women come to the U.S. to "squat and drop," babies so that they can become citizens, and live off the hard-working tax money of "Americans". These fear-mongers treat undocumented women like uncontrollable breeders, who dare not have just one child, but two or several. As mothers, immigrant women are silenced . My own mother, a Mexican immigrant, who has three children, spoke to me of her own experiences as a Mexican mother in a roomful of white women. At PTA meetings she said she felt "excluded, like my comments and questions didn't matter because they were never answered".  If this isn't policing women's bodies and voices, I don't know what is.

The point at which one goal of feminism is bodily autonomy, immigration becomes a central focus of feminism. The female immigrant body is one of the ultimate targets for the xenophobic and racist imagination. It's not simply a body of color, but the tool through which other bodies of color are reproduced and nurtured. Where white motherhood is considered special, immigrant/brown motherhood is considered threatening and dealt with as such. This law is the legal materialization of that attitude.

Aside from the fact that I come from a family of immigrants, my concern for immigration issues also stems from my work. As a sex worker, I understand to an extent what it means to have my body policed. And though I certainly have privileges, such as never fearing deportation for instance, I can still stand in solidarity with those who are stigmatized for simply doing what they have to do to survive. Sex work is stigmatized, sometimes criminalized and often kept secret. Sex workers are considered dispensable, not valuable to society. We are considered a moral drain on society. Often sex workers are also undocumented and in that case, the fear of getting caught becomes a nightmare. Being an undocumented sex worker makes it that much harder to report abuse or crimes against them without fear of deportation and it limits their access to resources.

Feminism must pay close attention to the issues developing around immigration and work with and alongside those already committed to fighting for immigrant rights. Feminists need to stop questioning if immigration is "really" a feminist issue. Feminism must not be a white only, english only movement.