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Women Lead the Way in Immigration Movement

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  • Steven L. Robinson
    Women Lead the Way in Immigration Movement New America Media, News Feature, Pueng Vongs, May 10, 2006 Editor s Note: Observers who say the current immigration
    Message 1 of 1 , May 12, 2006
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      Women Lead the Way in Immigration Movement

      New America Media, News Feature,
      Pueng Vongs,
      May 10, 2006

      Editor's Note: Observers who say the current immigration movement is
      leaderless need look no further than the cadre of women leaders, who fuel
      the movement and have done so for decades, writes New America Media editor
      Pueng Vongs.

      SAN FRANCISCO -- The movement for comprehensive immigration reform has sent
      oceans of people to the streets nationwide, and women have emerged as
      leaders of this upsurge.

      "Many immigration advocacy groups across the nation are led by women," says
      Lillian Galedo, executive director with Filipinos for Affirmative Action in
      Oakland, part of the National Network for Immigration and Refugee Rights.

      "When I think about who's on the conference calls, the majority are women. I
      think it's because of their ability to stay focused and hang tough over a
      long period of time. They've been a part of the movement for a long time."

      Now, the women are stepping into the forefront.

      Emma Lozano, executive director of Centro Sin Fronteras in Chicago, has been
      working for immigrant rights since 1983. For nine months she asked
      Spanish-language radio deejays to speak out against tough anti-immigrant
      bills. The result was a Chicago protest on July 1, 2005 that gathered
      50,000. That followed later with the first major protest in early March in
      Chicago, which drew 300,000 and put the movement on the map. On May Day she
      helped turn out 400,000 people in Chicago.

      Lozano, whose father was a migrant farmworker, recently helped to write the
      nation's first county resolution upholding immigrants' rights.

      "When the Sensenbrenner bill came people were afraid to speak out against it
      and they feared a backlash, but I said we can't be afraid of that," Lozano
      says.

      Lozano has also tailored programs specifically for women, who are migrating
      today globally at a rate faster than men.

      The number of female immigrants, legal and illegal, worldwide rose from 46
      percent in 1960 to 49 percent in 2000, according to a United Nations report.
      In Europe, Latin American and North America, women make up more than half of
      the immigrant population. The Pew Hispanic Center says of the 12 million
      undocumented immigrants in the United States, 4 million of them are women.

      That also means that a greater number of them are being caught in
      immigration crackdowns.

      Lozano launched La Familia Latina Unida as a result of the rising number of
      families torn apart because of toughened immigration laws. "After 9/11 more
      families came to us seeking help. " She says mothers were being arrested,
      single moms, and "a 2-year old was even deported. "

      As a result of the surge in women immigrants entering the country as
      domestic workers and caregivers, Angelica Salas, executive director of the
      Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) created a
      program to protect their rights. The coalition had also created a
      ground-breaking program for male day laborers.

      "(The women) have unique issues. Many get paid very little, they have to
      deal with sexual harassment, they are raising families simultaneously," says
      Salas.

      Salas' mother was a garment worker and her father, a farmworker. Salas
      originally came to the United States from Durango, Mexico undocumented.

      "I know what coming from a rural background and poverty is like, and also
      the opportunities in the U.S. It is a dual experience of opportunity and
      discrimination," says Salas. Her group was instrumental in bringing out more
      than one million people to immigration reform rallies in Los Angeles the
      past few months.

      "Our main focus is to help immigrants speak to their stories, struggles,
      dreams and hopes," Salas says. CHIRLA has a committee of household workers
      and nannies who travel with her to address policymakers in Sacramento and
      Washington D.C. "They educate our elected officials and advocate for
      themselves on things like fair wages, respect in the workplace and the need
      for laws to be changed."

      Aarti Shahani co-founder of Families for Freedom in New York, also recently
      traveled to Washington with 300 families affected by deportations.

      She began her work following the 1996 immigration reform and founded her
      organization for the numerous women who were turned into single mothers
      because their partners were deported or detained by the U.S. government. She
      works with an array of multi-ethnic groups from the Caribbean, Africa, Latin
      America and South Asia.

      Shahani was born in Morocco of Indian descent. Shahani's uncle was deported
      from the United States in 1999. Her father, a green card holder, is
      currently facing deportation charges.

      The current reform movement has been dominated by the call for legalization,
      she says, and there has not been enough emphasis on protecting the rights of
      legal immigrants.

      "In the past decade we have witnessed the government deeply expand
      deportation and detention systems,"she explains. Grounds on which legal
      residents can be deported include being convicted of crimes, overstaying
      visas or violating visa conditions.

      "Yes, we should legalize as many as possible, but we should not diminish the
      value of legal status in the process," she says. "Deportation is the hidden
      piece even in the most progressive proposals right now. "

      Moderate measures like the McCain-Kennedy bill would grant some form of
      legalization but in the process lessen the value of it, she says.

      It is through the work of these women leaders that the movement is thriving.

      "Women have put life into this movement," says Lozano. "We are the
      nurturers, we take care of the children, we work in the home and the
      factories. Sometimes men are afraid to come out and stand up because they
      are targets."

      "We've been doing this work for a long time," says Salas. "What's
      interesting is now we've seen men emerge who want to take center stage."

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