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Immigrants’ Rights Are a Women's Issue

15 May 2013 No Comment

Gisela Santiago

Gisela Santiago
Los Angeles, United States

“All women — regardless of immigration status or of color —  deserve equal access to reproductive care and equal treatment in all aspects of life. Immigrants’ rights are a women’s issue.”


May 1st, known as International Workers Day, has become a day to demand full rights for immigrants and work equality here in Los Angeles and across the US. Even though the United States is known as a place of opportunity and success, the harsh reality is that while there are stories of success there are also many stories and experiences that remind us of how unequal the world is.

Currently in the U.S. there are about 400,000 deportations each year. As a Mexican-American living in a heavily populated Hispanic community, I would not and could not ignore the struggles that face my community. Behind each of those numbers there stands a story of a family torn apart, of children being forced into the foster care system, of now-single parents raising their American-born children, of young students blocked from pursuing higher education, the most basic rights.

My parents migrated here to the United States to look for a better, decent life — but it wasn’t easy. Learning English wasn’t easy. Knowing that I didn’t look “American” wasn’t easy, even though I was an American citizen. Being called derogatory terms for simply being brown wasn’t easy. Seeing that people were looked down upon for being brown wasn’t easy. Seeing people stopped by police for being a person of color wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy seeing children being laughed at or bullied for being in ESL classes.

My family faced many setbacks. There were times where my parents stood in bread lines. There was fear that there would be no food on the table, fear that there would be no guarantee of a roof over our heads. After my father got sick, my mother began cleaning houses in order to make ends meet. A large majority of domestic workers are women without papers, women who are unable to find other work due to their immigration status. Most, like my mother, speak very little English and are forced to leave their families in order to take care of other people’s children. The pay is just enough to put food on the table, but most of the time these women get little pay. Their bosses are aware that most are undocumented and do not pay them enough or demand too much work for too little money. They get no benefits, no vacation pay, no overtime, no sick days.

Women Organized to Resist and Defend leading a march

I started organizing with WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend) because I understood that the fight for women’s rights has not ended. The fight for women’s rights is the fight for women like my mother, women like myself. Not only are women still underpaid, access to healthcare and contraception is becoming harder to get. Budget cuts to social programs affect working class women the most and requiring that women present an identification to get the morning-after pill marginalizes undocumented women even further. All women — regardless of immigration status or of color — deserve equal access to reproductive care and equal treatment in all aspects of life. Immigrants’ rights are a women’s issue.

WORD decided to join the May Day march not only to support our undocumented sisters and brothers, but to let people know that no woman can be free while our undocumented sisters are being oppressed. The violence that undocumented women face is still very present. Many do not report domestic abuse or work inequalities due to the fear of being deported and having their children taken away.

WORD is a women’s rights organization that fights for full rights for all people. We stand with our undocumented sisters, on May Day and every day.


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