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Why We Need To Keep the Struggle to End Gender Violence Against Immigrants Alive

Why we need to keep the struggle to end gender violence against immigrants alive

Yes, like Betsy Reed argues, we should not become fascinated with the fact that the system seemed to have worked well for one immigrant woman who was raped. While this is good for the cause to end gender violence against immigrants, it is, unfortunately, an anomaly.

Most immigrant women in this country today are at a high risk of being victimized because of their gender, sexuality, racial and ethnic background, social class and immigration status.

Most immigrant women who do not have the proper authorization to be living and/or working in the United States are highly vulnerable to being exploited at work—both economically and sexually.

Moreover, since the implementation of anti-immigration policies like 287G, “secure communities” and state-wide laws like SB1070 in Arizona, the levels of scrutiny and of violence that unauthorized immigrants have endured has increased exponentially.

Despite the fact that by US law, the human and civil rights of unauthorized immigrants are to be respected and protected in this country, the implementation of such anti-immigrant measures have counteracted the achievements that years and years of immigrants’ and women’s rights activists have brought.

Specifically, immigrant women are protected under the Violence Against Women Act: those immigrants who have been victims of gender violence are to be assisted and given fair treatment in order to overcome the abusive conditions they may be living under. However, since anti-immigrant measures have been enacted, the unimaginable has occurred: perpetrators of gender violence have found their power rising, given the fact that their most common threats against their immigrant victims became true. While before some of these threats were unrealistic, they are now real. For example, it is now possible for an abuser to call the police, report their immigrant victims and have them deported.

The strained economic conditions that we have been facing in this country have also worsened the already bad employment conditions that unauthorized immigrants endure. This tough labor market has also increased the power of both intimate abusers and exploitative employers: the former can truly threaten their partners with telling their employers about their immigration status as well as convince their partners that they should not leave the house to work since there are very few jobs available (thus isolating them and increasing their economic dependency on the abuser); the latter find themselves empowered to be economically and sexually abusive against the unauthorized immigrant workers, since they can easily threaten the immigrants with reporting their status to the police with deportation, as well as find alternative workers to fill the post if they decide to report the assault or quit the job because of the abuse.

All in all, while is is true that the events related to the rape of the immigrant hotel worker by the director of the IMF can be taken as a good sign in the efforts to end gender violence against immigrants, the sad reality is that in most cases immigrant women live under increasingly risky conditions and that the legal achievements to protect these immigrants have been curtailed by recent anti-immigrant policies. This is why we need to keep the struggle to end gender violence against immigrants more alive than ever. We cannot rest. We cannot remain silent. We cannot dare to say that we’ve triumphed. The victory will be pyrrhic until all women, regardless of their immigration status, sexual orientation, social class, racial or ethnic background, have the same rights in principle and in practice.

For more on this, please see my book, Violence Against Latina Immigrants: Citizenship, Inequality and Community (NYU Press, 2010).

Roberta Villalon

Queens, NY

May 20 2011 - 2:36pm

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