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What Supreme Ct. Decisions Mean for Immigrant Women

Posted: Jun 27, 2012

Underreported in the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070 and a pending decision on President Obama’s health care reform due Thursday is the impact these decisions will have on the lives of immigrant women.

For too long, the experiences and perspectives of immigrant women have been consigned to the margins of policy debates, leaving many in our community out of the conversation. Yet as the recent past has demonstrated, anti-choice, anti-immigrant policymakers inevitably seek to undermine our civil rights by attacking our most marginalized first, and we must be prepared to respond.

The past several months have seen an onslaught of state and federal policies that either explicitly target immigrant women or would have a clear and disproportionate impact on this community. From the faux-Violence Against Women Act passed by the House this Spring and the “PRENDA-the-Pretenda” bill that was defeated in that chamber, conservative lawmakers in Washington have tried to use immigrant women’s access to health care and other vital services as a bargaining chip for political gain.

At the same time, legislatures in Arizona, Alabama, Florida and other states have doubled down on policies to restrict access to abortion and contraception while at the same time making it harder for immigrant women and families to live with dignity and justice. It’s been a tough year.

But this week brings with it a measured victory, as anti-immigrant extremism in the states seems to have finally “jumped the shark.” In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the overreach of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, affirming such legislation violates our Constitution, as well as our national values and national interests. The court joins millions of Americans in rejecting these divisive and unworkable policies.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the most dangerous provision of SB 1070 remains intact — at least for now. The “Papers, Please” provision requires police to ask proof of legal status for anyone they believe to be in the country illegally.

This policy will undoubtedly contribute to racial profiling and harassment in Arizona, leave immigrant women more vulnerable to crimes like intimate partner violence and less likely to seek needed services like prenatal care, and contribute to an overall environment of stigma and bias against immigrant woman and all women of color living in Arizona.

The impact on Native American communities is particularly disturbing: people who have lived in Arizona for thousands of years are now having their legal presence questioned because of this ill-conceived policy.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has already expressed her eagerness to implement “Papers, Please,” despite the shocking reality that it requires law enforcement to quite literally use an immigrant woman’s physical appearance and manner of speaking against her. If a woman’s skin color is too dark, she speaks with an accent or her body or family look a certain way, she may become a target for police scrutiny.

The possibilities for abuse are mind-blowing. Fortunately, more legal challenges to “Papers, Please” are forthcoming, the hope being that civil rights litigation on this provision will ultimately succeed at overturning it.

But while Arizona continues to vie for the blue ribbon in “worst state to be a Latina” — our nation as a whole, and now the highest court in the land, have sent a clear message: we will not stand for this.

The overwhelmingly positive response to the Obama administration’s announcement providing relief to some DREAMers gives us a clue. The American people are increasingly united in demanding compassionate, commonsense national solutions for national issues like immigration policy.

The same can be said of another enormous challenge for our nation: securing access to affordable, quality health care for all.

Later this week, the Supreme Court will issue another highly anticipated decision — whether (and to what extent) the health care reform law (Affordable Care Act) will be upheld. While some immigrant women are excluded from many of the law’s gains, certain provisions, like support for community health centers and access to contraception without co-pays, will pay huge dividends for immigrant communities.

Furthermore, the health reform law, if upheld, provides an important foundation for future legislation to promote health equity and access to care for immigrant women.

The National Coalition for Immigrant Women's Rights advocates on behalf of immigrant women, families, and communities, and we know we must remain vigilant and committed to our long-term vision of health, dignity, and justice for all. We stand in solidarity with reproductive justice and immigrants’ rights advocates, ready to move forward toward a brighter future.

We are hopeful that Arizona (and states like it) will catch up soon.

Jessica González-Rojas is executive director of National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Miriam Yeung is the executive director of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. A version of this op-ed ran on RH Reality Check.

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