Immigrant rights are a feminist fight!

by Christina López, Radical Women National Executive Committee

Around the world, May Day is a working peoples' holiday. For decades, the United States has tried to ignore it. But massive May Day marches in 2006 demanding justice for immigrants sparked a resurgence of this day of action. And those huge mobilizations made a difference.

They led to the utter defeat of the racist Sensenbrenner bill in the U.S. Congress. And they fueled successful opposition to all the "reforms" lawmakers have come up with since then. Most of these unacceptable proposals included temporary worker programs, forced detentions, militarized borders, and exorbitant fines for undocumented workers. However, ICE raids and deportations are still a brutal reality. And now the world has plunged into a financial crisis.

Hard times. Everyone is disgusted as bankers and automakers are handed bailouts, while working people get lower wages and layoffs. CEOs deposit million-dollar bonuses while public schools close and social services disappear. Meanwhile, far-right politicians and radio jocks blame immigrants for the suffering caused by capitalists! Actually, immigrants are severe victims of the depression. For the first time in decades, their unemployment rate is higher than native-born workers.

Women in general are hardest hit by the cutbacks taking place today. They bear primary responsibility for combating their families' increasing costs for food, childcare, medical care, and housing. An immigrant woman faces additional challenges if her partner is suddenly deported. These conditions have made immigrant women strong leaders in the community. They are at the forefront of battles for civil liberties and opposing the police-state tactics of Homeland Security. Good! A fighting spirit is needed in this dire period!

Militancy alive. Workers are fighting back — especially those protected by unions. Strikers, mostly women, at the Stella D'oro cookie factory in New York City are an example. They rejected company demands for reduced wages, sick days and vacation, and they resisted management's craven divide-and-conquer attempts. Other immigrant women are also playing a vibrant role in the labor movement. The two major national labor federations, AFL-CIO and Change to Win, have finally recognized this. They recently announced a united strategy to support legalization for many undocumented people and oppose the expansion of guest-worker programs. This is an advance for labor officialdom.

Grassroots organizing is also erupting. In a small town in Washington State, Port Angeles Radical Women called a community meeting to counteract Border Patrol checkpoints along the major highway. Residents from all over the Olympic Peninsula showed up (immigrant and native-born) and formed the Stop the Checkpoints Committee. They organize rallies, marches, forums and public campaigns to educate, garner support for immigrants and stop ICE harassment. Fight-back groups and news outlets across the country are taking note of their bold stand and solidarity.

This kind of pressure from below must intensify. President Obama is expected to announce immigration reform policy in May. But so far, he has only called for border militarization, fines, and an electronic verification system. This is a far cry from complete amnesty and the open border policy that justice and humanity compel.

Let's organize together! The times call for sweeping fundamental change. But none of us can do it alone. Radical Women integrates political education on the issues with activism on the solutions, and trains women leaders. Get involved! Lend a hand! You are needed!