This article was written for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
Last Thursday, three women and one girl testified at a jam-packed hearing in Congress on how Arizona’s latest immigration measure is affecting women and children. Emotions poured out as the women and girl told their stories of detainment and freedom, racism and hope, family separation and community bonding. As reported by AP:
The partisan event was assembled by Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva to pressure the Obama administration and Congress to overhaul immigration laws and to challenge Arizona’s tough new immigration law.
First there was 10-year old Katherine Figueroa, who cried as she asked the Members of Congress assembled, “Please tell President Obama to stop putting parents in jail, all they want is a better life for their kids.” She talked about how proud she was that despite her parents being detained by Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio, she could still make it to school on most days.
Then came 23-year old Silvia Rodriguez, who despite not having nationality documents, refuses to call herself illegal or even undocumented. She has been accepted to a graduate school program at Harvard and is struggling to come up with the money to attend this fall. When Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez called her the best example of an American based on her hard work and sacrifice, she tearfully thanked him because she had never been called an American before.
Another witness described the horrors she suffered when she was detained after the new law was passed and had to leave her toddler alone with his older brother. Finally, Silvia Herrera, an advocate from the organization Puente, testified that AZ SB 1070 is only the beginning. Pretty soon, she argued, more laws like this will be passed and we may even see an international boycott like South Africa faced before it abolished apartheid. She told many stories of Mexican Americans who have lived here for centuries being harassed by the police and even accused of fabricating their papers and later being detained.
While I was grateful to see that Rep. Grijalva was joined by Rep. Gutierrez, Rep. Judy Chu, Rep. Jared Polis, Rep. Hank Johnson and others, I was dismayed but not surprised to see that not a single Republican was in attendance. We in the Latina community need to ensure that our leaders from across the political spectrum and in every branch of government are hearing about what is going on in Arizona, where racial profiling against Latinos is now legally required by police.
These women moved most of us in that room to tears, but I want them to move President Obama to tears. I want them to move Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to tears. I want policymakers to understand that while they may think they are going after drug dealers and human traffickers with these kinds of laws, they are actually targeting hardworking, honest, good people in our communities who enrich our way of life and our culture as Americans. As many Congressional elections approach this fall, let us strategize about intelligent ways to make the Latina community heard, on AZ SB 1070 and other issues that matter to our community.