When I first went to a day laborer corner to offer training about wage theft, some people looked at me like I was out of place. After all, I was the only woman in a crowd of a hundred day laborers who looked for work every day in our nation’s capitol.
But the truth is that I’m one of many women who proudly participate in the day laborer movement for worker and human rights. I organize among day laborers because both my parents were immigrant workers who faced similar struggles. While the majority of day laborers are men, women play a vital role as both laborers and organizers.
Last week hundreds of day laborer leaders and organizers came to Los Angeles to celebrate the National Day Laborer Organizing Network’s 10 year anniversary under the banner of “On the Road to Justice: Ni Un Paso Atrás” (Not one Step Back). And indeed we have come a long way.
During the conference we learned that the Supreme Court would uphold day laborers’ fundamental right to look for work in public sidewalks across this country—the culmination of a twenty year struggle that was waged in the courts and in the streets against the anti-immigrant forces who seek to criminalize our very existence.
We’ve also come a long way in our work towards gender justice within our movement. Ten years ago women within the movement — day laborers as well as organizers — began talking about the discrimination they experienced in the day laborer corners and in the worker centers. Those conversations gave way to the first gender equality trainings in worker centers across the country and eventually a gender policy: “Ni Mas, Ni Menos” (Neither More, Nor Less) as it asserts on posters that hang in many worker centers today.
Last week, as in past national conventions, we conducted gender justice trainings for all members, we elected a board of directors that ensured 50 percent female representation, held the women’s caucus and for the first time in our history an LGBTQ caucus, marking the event with a new poster that reads: “Everyone has the right to live, love, and work no matter where they’re from or who they’re with.”
As deportations have reached unprecedented numbers, our view on gender justice has expanded to include the ways that immigration enforcement policies disproportionately impact women and children. At the conference we heard the testimony of Isaura Garcia, who held back tears when recounting how her call to the Los Angeles police after being beaten by her partner, led to her wrongful arrest, detention, and threat of deportation as a result of the so-called “Secure Communities” program.
We heard women describe horrific stories of being forced to give birth in chains and shackles in immigration detention. Women whose hands and legs are so tightly chained to a bed that they can’t even stand to use the bathroom. The suffering women face due to immigration enforcement, the abuse and sexual assault in jails, the trauma of separation of their children and loss of parental rights make it clear to us that the United States’ deportation policies and programs such as “Secure Communities” constitute violence against women.
Faced with an immigration system that further victimizes women, we’ve launched with our close friends at the National Domestic Worker Alliance a campaign called WeBelongTogether.org to bring the women’s movement to stand with immigrant women. We’ve lifted the voices of women, mothers, and children especially in states like Georgia, Arizona, and Alabama and will continue to do so this year as the devastating effects of the Obama Administration’s “Secure Communities” and unjust laws spread.
Women are at the center of leading the immigrant rights movement today as labor leaders, mothers, daughters, and students. Women like Isaura who stand against Sheriff Baca’s deportation programs in Los Angeles, women within our movement who advance gender equality, and women who speak the truth in the face of deportation.
We are organizing on street corners, within our institutions, and within our own families to set this country on the road to justice. Together, we will defend and advance our rights as women, as workers, and as human beings, ni un paso atrás.