So far, the groups have sought to influence immigration legislation in the Senate, undertaken large scale demonstrations and united national women’s groups.
And even as chances of an immigration overhaul have faded in recent weeks, their efforts have mobilized women across the country. “When you ask people what images they think of when they think of immigration reform, it’s often men, scary looking, scaling the border walls,” said Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of We Belong Together, a national immigration campaign that focuses on women. “The idea that it’s really women and children that are the majority of immigrants to the United States is completely lost.” The groups see opposition to a comprehensive immigration overhaul as having a larger effect on gender equality, and they say it is part of a “war on women” that devalues the work of female immigrants and keeps them vulnerable.
Their opponents, meanwhile, see it as nothing more than a stunt to push a pro-immigration agenda. Gender is immaterial to immigration policy, they said. Since then, the cause has brought together immigrant and feminist organizations, including the Miami Workers Center, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, the National Organization for Women and the Global Women’s Institute.
“I thought it was important to stand in solidarity with my sisters in the immigration movement and also say to women everywhere, sometimes the street is where you have to be,” NOW president Terry O’Neill said. “From our perspective, the coalition in support of immigration reform has never been as big and diverse as it is now,” said Natalie Camastra, a policy analyst for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
In September, 105 women activists were arrested at an immigrant rights demonstration in Washington. One of those was Leisha Acosta, a U.S. citizen from Charlotte, N.C., whose Honduran husband was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in June. She said the government needed to consider families and mothers when setting immigration policy.