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GABNet DEFENDS IMMIGRANT WOMEN'S RIGHTS

by GABRIELA Network - Los Angeles Wednesday, May. 02, 2007 at 3:50 PM
losangeles@gabnet.org 212-592-3507 PO Box 403, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10036

On May 1, 2007, hundreds of thousands of people across the United States will once again take to the street to oppose recent US legislation which threatens the human rights, civil liberties and welfare of all immigrants and their communities. For far too long the issue of how migration impacts women have not been given its due. In fact, women migrants--including Filipinas--are the most vulnerable of the population:

GABNet DEFENDS IMMIGRANT WOMEN'S RIGHTS

For reference: Annalisa Enrile, Chair, GABRIELA Network
chair@gabnet.org, 1.212.592.3507

Los Angeles -- On May 1, 2007, hundreds of thousands of people across the United States will once again take to the street to oppose recent US legislation which threatens the human rights, civil liberties and welfare of all immigrants and their communities. For far too long the issue of how migration impacts women have not been given its due. In fact, women migrants--including Filipinas--are the most vulnerable of the population:

> 55% of the world's migrants are women

> The lowest paid migrant workers are women

> The most abused migrant workers are women

As a tragic example, a 58- year-old Filipina domestic worker, Felisa "Fely" Garcia, was recently found dead in her home in the Bronx, New York allegedly due to suicide. In the letters she left, she points to the abuse and the harassment of her employer as the source of her despair.

What can we do for women like Fely and other female migrants on the brink of catastrophe?

This question is relevant as two-thirds of today's female immigrant population in the United States comes from Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East. The Philippines—the world's model temp agency which pimps its population out to more than 180 countries around the globe--is a leading exporter of its women workers.

The Philippines, alone, exported more than a million people last year, 75% of whom were women.

This workforce--women who've left the comfort of home and family for their survival--sends home billions of money back and shore up whole governments and economies, like that of the Philippines which survives only because its largely female Diaspora dutifully remit $12 billion a year.

But like everything else in this capitalist era--where the global network of goods and services is allowed to flow unimpeded but which outlaws the movement of human beings who simply seek better opportunities--there is a price to be paid, immeasurable by any standards.

The remittances for the Philippines--like all other nations struggling in the developing world--floats on an ocean of tears….tears of those who've left and tears of those left behind.

Meanwhile, women who managed to escape the grinding poverty, repressive governments and hapless economies, land on the so-called shores of the American Dream and face a whole new set of nightmares: abuse, exploitation, and prejudice.

Abuse of Women Migrant Workers

Women migrants suffer physical, emotional and verbal abuse on the hands of not only their employers, but also their partners. Domestic Violence, for example, is exacerbated for female immigrants when spouses control their immigration status and those of their family members. Due to their fear of deportation, many battered immigrant women stay in violent homes. Despite new legal mechanisms to protect them, reforms are needed to improve access to immigration relief and legal services, especially victims of the mail-order bride industry, a form of
human trafficking.

Exploitation of Women Migrant Workers

Fear, uncertainty and isolation from traditional support systems also make it hard for women migrants to speak out when they are forced to work in servitude in the shadows of America's homes, factories and fields, with pay that do not resemble any kind of living wage.

Human trafficking forces many women into prostitution. The federal government – with figures criticized by its own agencies as being too conservative -- claims that up to 800,000 people are being trafficked internationally every year, with more than 14,000 of those entering this country.

Governmental agencies – like the Philippines' Department of Labor or the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) make millions of money every year from charging women migrants exorbitant fees to leave their countries, enter the United States and stay in the US. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has announced its intention to raise service fees by an average of 66%. The changes could take effect as early as June 2007. For many working women migrants, these fees are too out of their reach.


Prejudice Against Women Migrant Workers

Federal Legislation enacted since 9/11 has affected women migrants disproportionately.

Operation Return to Sender is the recent US nationwide program targeting immigrants who have failed to comply with deportation orders. More than 23,000 people have been arrested nationwide, including Filipinos all around the country.

Raids have been conducted where women migrant workers are arrested en masse and placed in detention centers where their rights to counsel are oftentimes delayed. Meanwhile many women migrants are reporting sexual abuse in these detention cells.

Other raids happen in the dead of night, further traumatizing women and children – the latter in many cases suddenly find themselves without one or both parents
who had been caught up in the sweeps.

In addition, lawmakers insist that the only way to address the status of 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US is for more border enforcement and tougher legazalition measures.

Last month, the Congress proposed the STRIVE Act (The Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act, H.R. 1645). The Strive Act, like President Bush's "guest worker" proposals, claims to tout a "path to citizenship." However, both programs requires undocumented migrants to return to their country of origin – risking a lifetime ban from re-entering the US and thus lifetime separation from family already here.

Both bills also allow criminalizing immigrant communities by utilizing local police to enforce immigration law – a trend which is creating a chill in immigrant communities. Women migrants thus do not report crimes against them for fear of being arrested.

The destiny of 12 millions undocumented immigrants – the majority of whom are women-- is one of the most crucial human rights issues in the United States. It is time that we demand comprehensive immigration reform which puts dignity back into women's work and lives, rather than merely treating them as shadowy statistics in the margins of society.

As women – as Filipinas, Mexicanas, Africanas, Americanas, etc – we must understand the necessity of building unity, to transcend our individual conditions and connect it with women across all borders.

Denounce the Bush Administration's immigration proposal! Demand that sending nations – like the Philippines – wean itself off from the blood, sweat and tears of its women migrants! Declare that ALL Women -- Filipinas and their Sisters Around the World -- Unite and Fight for Migrant Rights!


GABRIELA Network is the oldest and largest US-Philippine women's multi-cultural solidarity mass organization. PO Box 403, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10036 * gabnet@gabnet.org * www.gabnet.org * 212.592.3507




In militant sisterhood...

Maureen Ivy Quicho
Coordinator, GABNet Los Angeles



=======================================================
GABRIELA Network - Los Angeles Chapter
A US-Philippine Women's Solidarity Mass Organization
PO Box 3032
Cerritos, CA 90703-3032
email: losangeles@gabnet.org
web: www.gabnet.org
=======================================================

*** GABRIELA Network is a Philippine-US women's solidarity mass organization
since 1989. GABNet provides the means by which Filipinas in the US can
empower themselves, functions as training ground for women's leadership,
and articulates the women's point of view. GABNet effects change through
organizing, educating, fundraising, networking, and advocacy.

GABRIELA stands for...
General
Assembly
Binding women for
Reform,
Integrity,
Equality,
Leadership and
Action

It also commemorates Gabriela Silang, known as one of the first and
fiercest women generals in the Philippines who led the longest series of
successful revolts against 18th Century Spanish colonizers.

GABNet-US is an all-volunteer organization of women with chapters in
Chicago, Irvine, Los Angeles, New Jersey/New York, Portland, San Diego, and
San Francisco/Bay Area,
***


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