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Connecting the Dots: Immigrant Rights and Reproductive Justice

by Courtney HooksPEP Young Women's Leadership Council

 "Immigrant rights and reproductive justice are intrinsically linked because the reproductive health of immigrant women is profoundly affected by immigration policy."--Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas & Aishia Glasford, National Latina Insititute for Reproductive Health


 On November 7th 2009, the Young Women's Leadership Council members and PEP staff went to the SisterSong conference in Washington, DC. It was so inspiring to be in a room filled with people (mostly FIERCE women of color) so committed to reproductive justice for all. There were pamphlets--lots of them--gender neutral bathrooms, free HIV tests, and a sea of (oh, so beautiful!) beaming faces turned upward, listening intently to each speaker that stood at the podium.

People spoke about a variety of issues, including young indigenous peoples' sexual health and empowerment, how HIV/AIDS is affecting black women and girls in the South, and what the health care reform bill (which was being voted on as we spoke) would mean for various communities. After the plenary we went to smaller workshops. But before we were finished with the day, we got word about two new amendments -- one to restrict abortion access in public and private healthcare plans (the infamous Stupak amendment), and another that would further restrict immigrants' access to quality, affordable health insurance.

“We are not going to protect Congress from the anger of women of color when they bargain away our human rights, and when they fail to protect the rights of immigrants to healthcare access,” said Loretta Ross, National Coordinator of SisterSong. And with that (and a lot of swift and efficient organizing) we put the conference on hold, broke into groups by state, and marched to Capitol Hill to tell our representatives to stand up for women's and immigrants' rights. It was a great sight--just imagine the sound of 800 heels clicking on historic roads and our angry and excited breath puffing into small clouds against the chill, autumn air. Yeah, it was that kind of night. 

So, How Do Immigrant Rights and Reproductive Justice Connect?

 The human rights, well-being, and livelihood of all people--regardless of documentation, status, or country of origin--is what reproductive justice is all about. Immigrant rights activists and reproductive justice activists are advocating for many of the same things: the right to live in and fully participate in society free from violence and discrimination, the right to fully access high-quality social services, including education and health care, and the right to self determine the course of their lives.

Amanda Allen from the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum says that, "the connection between immigrant rights and reproductive justice illustrates the relationship between reproductive oppression, xenophobia, racism, and sexism." Many issues that women who migrate to the U.S. face are what Allen calls, "textbook examples of reproductive injustice:" sexualized violence on the border, mothers being deported and separated from their children who remain in the U.S., ICE raids and detention, violence within detention centers, the restriction from government funded health services for immigrants until 5 years after they have become naturalized U.S. citizens. There is so much to address. I'd like to put the spotlight on one (oh, so badass!) organization working at the "intersection" of immigrant rights and reproductive justice.

Spotlight On: the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

 The National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, or NAPAWF, is a national, multi-issue organization on a mission for Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) women and girls' human rights. NAPAWF spearheaded efforts to remove Gardasil--the HPV vaccine--from the list of required vaccinations for immigrant women and girls seeking visas or applying to become U.S. citizens. The HPV vaccine does not combat the type of highly contagious infectious diseases (like the measles and polio) that the requirements were intended to address. The HPV vaccine is also expensive.

According to Amanda Allen, from NAPAWF, this requirement created an additional "financial and administrative barrier to the immigration application process and unfairly singled out immigrant women by taking away their ability to make informed choices of whether or not to get the Gardasil injection." It dictated, "to a particular group of women what they must do with their bodies." 

After NAPAWF and other immigrant rights, civil rights, women's rights, public health, and reproductive justice organizations partnered and sent, "a clear message to the Center for Disease Control that the singling out of immigrant women would not be tolerated," the CDC removed Gardasil from the list of required vaccinations for immigrants. Sweet success!

NAPAWF is also a leader in the movement to make safer and healthier work environments for nail salon technicians (40% of whom are API nationwide, while 80% of nail salon technicians in California are Vietnamese immigrants). The majority of nail salon workers are of reproductive age--meaning they can still get pregnant and bear a child, but the majority of chemicals used in nail salons have not been evaluated for safety or have been linked to cancer, respiratory problems, birth defects, and miscarriages.

Amanda Allen calls this, a "clear example of injustice experienced at the intersection of immigrant status, race, and reproductive health." NAPAWF, along with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and Women's Voices for the Earth are working to improve nail salon worker health and safety while developing a strategy to promote research, oversight and regulation of the cosmetic industry.

These are a few great organizations doing amazing work for immigrant and reproductive justice--and I'm sure there's plenty more where that came from. Do you know of any other noteworthy groups? Are you working toward immigrant and reproductive justice, too? Let us know about it on our website or Facebook page!

How can I get involved?

•    Educate yourself! Learn more about these issues.
•    Share your story! Talk about you or your family's personal experience with immigration.
•    Educate others! Have conversations with your friends, family, and community. Hold a teach-in or a community discussion, speak up in class about current issues, write on blogs, or write an article for your newspaper.
•    Weigh in! Call your elected officials and let them know what you think!
•    Work it! Intern, volunteer, or work for an organization like the ones shown above, or:


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