Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics

Women Stand Up and Get Arrested for Immigration Reform

Organizers Pramila Jayapal and Megan Macaraeg get arrested in DC. Photo by Jen Soriano, We Belong Together

Right now, women comprise 51% of people migrating to the United States, and women and children make up three-fourths of immigrants in this country. Approximately 60% of undocumented immigrant women are in the labor force. These stats show that not only does immigration reform matter to most people in America; it also disproportionately impacts women, children and families -- many of whom are suffering within our broken immigration system. 

On Friday, September 13, 2013 roughly 200 women came to D.C. to march, blockade, protest and get arrested as a part of a mass demonstration on Capitol Hill.  We Belong Together, an initiative of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), organized the action. The protest featured various women’s groups that gathered, held hands in a circle and sat down on Independence Ave between Capitol Hill and House members’ offices. By the end of the day over 100 women were arrested as they called for a move on immigration legislation.

The women were calling for policy goals that include and empower women -- goals that include a broad and clear roadmap to citizenship, keeping families together, and resolving massive backlogs in immigration processing.

Asian and Latino communities have the two highest immigration rates to the US, with women being a big part of this fast growing population – likewise the protest brought out women’s groups from API and Latino movements, as well as other groups that have previously not taken on a prominent role with immigration reform, like the National Organization of Women (NOW).

"API women participated in the action to represent the millions of API women immigrants who are deeply affected by our broken immigration system.” Says Pramila Jayapal, Co-chair of the We Belong Together campaign.

API women like Ingrid Cruz, a teacher and immigrant from the Philippines and H-1B visa holder living in Louisiana, who along with hundreds of teachers, she was exploited and abused by labor recruiters with a history of felony offenses.

This historic action also included the largest number of undocumented immigrant women to willingly submit to arrest . Undocumented women face increased risk of exploitation, abuse and even rape from employers and undocumented women in domestic violence situations are often less likely and less able to leave their abusive situations or report abuse due to fears of deportation. Every day more than 1000 people are deported, many of them women. Women that are often torn apart from their children, who are left behind in this country.

Megan Macaraeg, Organizing Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) points to the fact that immigration reform is not just policy to many women, but an issue that deeply impacts their lives and the lives of their communities. For her, it’s the story of her neighbors, her daughters, her ex-husband, and her entire family. Megan’s ex-husband, an immigrant from El Salvador and father of her two daughters, was arrested in a pre-dawn apartment raid and forced into deportation proceedings. Her daughters are now fighting to keep their dad in the country he calls home. Keeping families together was one of the big points of Friday’s protest, and Megan’s family is one of thousands affected by forced separations and deportations under the current system.

Diana Bui, Co-chair of NAPAWF’s DC Chapter, emphasizes the need for policy to reflect what is happening on the ground: “Now is the time to escalate in action and make our demands even louder. It’s time we ended the criminalization of undocumented immigrants, especially women.”

Too often, communities and people who have been impacted the most are the ones who are left voiceless and left out of the policy picture. This time, women rose together, sat together, and got arrested together to ensure that they would not be forgotten nor  silenced during this crucial time. They have made their actions, now it is time for our policymakers to listen to them and realize that a policy that helps women will help our country become a stronger and more inclusive nation.


About The Author

Nadia Hussain

S. Nadia Hussain is a Bangladeshi American activist, poet, blogger and photographer with a passion for human rights work and progressive politics. She lives in Oakland, CA, where she works with refugee and emerging API communities. 

She is actively involved with South Asian, Muslim and API organizations. She is also involved in Democratic politics and will serve as a delegate from CA's 13th Congressional District to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC this Fall.

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