Women’s Rights Movement and Immigration- a Party in the U.S.A.

Remember Clueless? From the 90s? Beverly Hills High School meets Jane Austen’s Emma?

The original trailer features Cher, the movie’s heroine from Beverly Hills, giving the pro-position on an immigration debate in her speech and debate class.  Watch it here (from the beginning to about 42 sec.), and here’s the full text:

So, OK, like right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all “What about the strain on our resources?” But it’s like, when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday right? I said R.S.V.P. because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that like, did not R.S.V.P. so I was like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings, but by the end of the day it was like, the more the merrier! And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion, may I please remind you that it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty?

Thank you for that, Cher.

Cher is only one in a long line of women who have spoken loudly and proudly for humane immigration reform (alright, Cher is fictional, but I like that she treats everybody like a potential party guest. Because that’s what it is. A Party in the U.S.A.)

“Immigrants rights ARE women’s rights,” it says in the guiding principles of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, a group that sprang from the National Organization of Women. Supporting comprehensive immigration reform seems like a logical conclusion for women’s advocacy organizations. Women’s issues are exacerbated when there is less than full protection of rights by the Constitution.

Gender-based violence becomes especially amplified: the exploitation of women’s legal vulnerability produces mental, physical, and emotional violence at the hands of traffickers, smugglers, intimate partners, employers, and others. Barriers like language, threats of deportation, intimidation by destroying important documents, and threats to report status to employers are multiple ways in which women are barred from getting help.

After Proposition 200 passed in Arizona, there were many reports of domestic violence victims afraid to report abuse, and the American Bar Association reports the following statistics: 48% of Latinas in one study reported that their partner’s violence against them had increased since they emigrated to the United States. A survey of immigrant Korean women found that 60% had been battered by their husbands. About 59.5% of married immigrant women and 49.8% of unmarried immigrant women experience physical and sexual abuse.

While women´s rights organizations haven´t jumped onto the CIR ASAP bandwagon- I mean party- yet (only three of the bajillions of sponsoring organizations of CIR ASAP are oriented towards women´s issues), they should. And soon…  It´s not like they´re unaware of issues in immigration reform. The National Organization of Women published a 2006 conference resolution calling for comprehensive immigration reform. The League of Women Voters issued a statement in support of a path to citizenship.

Both women’s rights and immigration are about restoring agency- expanding choices so that people can make their own decisions about their lives. Just as the pro-choice movement is about giving women choices in their reproductive lives (instead of forcing women into a corner), the DREAM Act, for example, is also about giving young immigrants choices. Right now, the options include returning to a country that hardly exists in memory, getting married, working a minimum wage job because they don’t check too closely for identification, receiving an undergraduate college degree and then working a minimum wage job because they don´t check too closely for identification, and joining the military-where there is some chance of citizenship, although all too frequently it is granted post-humously.

For the young immigrant who wants to be a doctor, an engineer, a teacher, a lawyer, forcing this range of choices is a heartbreaker.  The DREAM Act is about not letting anybody tell you who you are and what your place is in the world. In many situations, that is still the case with women- being defined by outside forces- and that is what the women´s rights movement fundamentally opposes.  Across the board the issues are similar-don’t tell me what to do- forget my age, my sexual orientation, my race, etc.- let me decide who I am and what I want to be in the world, and whether or not you like it, it will be the right decision, simply because I get to be the one that makes it.

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