By Christine Pelosi
Chair, CA Democratic Party Women’s Caucus
Fault lines run along color lines in American public life, and the women’s movement is no exception. Over the years, feminism has become more inclusive but there is still hard work to be done to include LGBT women and communities of color.
Nothing will test the political will of our movement or our country more than the way in which we welcome our newest Americans and bring the undocumented out of the shadows into the light of first class citizenship with all its rights and responsibilities.
First things first: feminists have to join the fight.
“I’m so glad you mentioned immigration as a women’s issue,” said the California Democratic Party convention delegate who had emigrated from Mexico, “because if you hadn’t I was going to call you out.” We had just finished screening the April 13 west coast premiere of The Dream Is Now to 500 rapt activists at the Women’s Caucus and unanimously pledged to support both comprehensive immigration reform and — via a motion made by Sandra Fluke — a California Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Believe it or not, many women’s rights advocates don’t see immigrants’ rights as a “women’s issue” either out of privilege or unfamiliarity. Hence the male feminist’s comment to me (and as it turned out, to Sandra Fluke as well). That must change — you cannot call yourself a feminist if you do not advance feminism for all, regardless of color or class or creed or immigrant status.
Second, feminists must push for the most women-friendly immigration bill possible.
As the Senate begins debate on the Gang of Eight bill (a “Gang” with ZERO female members) we must, as Abigail Adams once wrote to her husband, insist that Congress “remember the ladies.” This means including policy choices for secure borders, good-paying jobs for all workers, ending human trafficking, sanction exploitative employers, fix the legal immigration system, and create a path to citizenship with equal rights for LGBT Americans and visas to battered women promised during the debate over the Violence Against Women Act. Women are the majority of immigrants yet the minority of immigrant employment visas; immigrant and native born women who work in the service arena — such as domestic workers — are not valued for their work, making pennies on the dollar compared to male counterparts; and, women are disproportionately affected by family reunification policies.
Remember the work we did to finally (as in 500 days late) reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act? Visas for battered immigrant women — known as “U-visas” — were taken out of VAWA but promised for immigration reform. Now is the time. Revitalize those VAWA coalitions because the same bigotry manifest in opposition to immigrant visas and lesbian victim protections will rear its ugly head now. With immigration reform as with VAWA, we must refuse to be pitted against each other and instead work together for the common good.
Remember the Dreamers whose patriotism was praised when the Democratic House passed, and the Senate filibustered — the DREAM Act in 2010? Washington promised a path to citizenship, not just a roadblock to deportation. Now is the time to officially embrace DREAMers and their families as Americans with no less an opportunity to serve and contribute.
Remember the promise we all recite “with liberty and justice for all” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Now is the time to include immigration equality. We cannot merely hope that the Supreme Court will overturn the odious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and lend Constitutional support — we have to push for what we know is Constitutional now and include our LGBT sisters and brothers in reform. President Barack Obama has commendably said immigration equality “is the right thing to do” and we must fight to make immigration equality the law of the land.
Already some beltway types are saying “don’t press too hard for equality” or “let’s slow down after Boston” (as if a handful of Caucasian terrorists have anything to do with millions of Asians and Irish and Latino and European immigrants who have done us no harm) or the most sexist, “let the Gang of Eight” men do the talking. Thanks but no thanks. Women must stand and speak for ourselves and all our sisters — including our immigrant sisters. Thankfully the House immigration discussion involves female leadership but too many women’s voices are still not being heard. If we say we believe in equality for all then we must fight for equality for all not betray our immigrant sisters.
Americans of all backgrounds have a chance to work together in solidarity, and women must take the lead, not follow the naysayers or incrementalists. Feminists male and female must advance immigrants’ rights as women’s rights. We must not let bigotry or Boston stop us from doing what we know is right — what we pledge is right — liberty and justice for all.
The YWCA USA is working for comprehensive immigration reform that supports and protects women and families. Click here to find out how you can help us take action!