Opinion: What About the Human Rights of Undocumented Mothers?

Voices of immigrant women at Occupy Wall Street, New York City. Photo via Womens eNews by matti keltanen/ keltanen on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0). -- Via

Harsh anti-immigrant laws in Alabama, Arizona and other states are wreaking havoc on the lives of immigrant women, writes Mallika Dutt, president of the global human rights organization Breakthrough, in a column for Women’s eNews.

While the Obama administration’s Deferred Action directive — halting deportations of eligible undocumented young people — is a step in the right direction, Dutt writes, it falls short of addressing the miseries that undocumented mothers face.

Now that police officers can inquire about immigration status based solely on how a person looks, thousands of women–many the primary breadwinners for their families–have stopped leaving their homes entirely. They’ve stopped going to work. They’ve stopped visiting their doctors. They’ve stopped taking their kids to the doctor. They’ve stopped living their lives.

Trini, a mother of two in Alabama, drops her children off at school every morning unsure if she will be there at pickup time. She has, after all, seen other mothers in her community vanish–taken from their homes and families without warning or explanation.

Dutt also shares the story of Elvia, an Alabama-based undocumented immigrant who reported 30 years of domestic abuse to the police before the state’s notorious H.B. 56 legislation came into effect, requiring police officers to try to ascertain the immigration status of anyone that they stop, detain or arrest.

She told her story to the cops in her Alabama town. They helped her secure a restraining order against her husband. The local women’s shelter helped her get back on her feet. For Elvia, the system worked. In fact, it saved her life.

But this was before Alabama (where less than 4 percent of the population is foreign-born, documented or otherwise) passed H.B. 56, our nation’s harshest, most ruthless anti-immigration law.

This was before Alabama police started profiling–rather than protecting–women such as Elvia.

Back when she’d called the cops, the U.S. House of Representatives had not yet introduced the cruel, radically slashed version of the Violence Against Women Act that eliminated the lifesaving U Visa, which protects undocumented victims of domestic violence. Now Elvia worries that women in violent relationships will stay there, with their fear of deportation even stronger than their fear of abuse.

Elvia has good reason to worry. We all do.

The splitting of families by deportation also takes a toll on women, Dutt argues.

In the United States today, thousands of immigrant families have been separated by deportation or indefinite detention.

Women such as Trini have made the heartbreaking choice to sign away custody of their children to friends, neighbors and even landlords in case they or their husbands are detained, since deportation is too real a threat.

In the first six months of 2011 alone, the United States deported more than 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children. As a result of these record-breaking deportations, at least 5,100 U.S. children are currently living in foster care and unable to reunite with their detained or deported parents

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