Women immigrants tell of life in fear thanks to ‘Papers, please’ laws

By David Ferguson
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 16:04 EDT
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Latinofamily via Shutterstock
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Women immigrants from Arizona, Alabama and Georgia are living in fear after laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 have been put into place.

In a conference call sponsored by We Belong Together, a coalition of women’s rights and immigrant rights organizations, Ampardo (women’s last names are withheld to ensure safety), a mother of two from Arizona, says her daughter was taken into custody when police pulled over a car in which she was a passenger. The car’s window was broken, police said, and the driver did not speak English. She was in custody first in the notorious county jail of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then in a state facility. She was only able to return to her two children, 4 and 7, after five weeks. No charges were ever filed. Now the woman and her children are afraid to leave the house for fear they will be separated and never see each other again.

Police working for Arpaio have also detained Ampardo’s husband and son, in spite of the fact that her son, 14, is an American citizen. “They treat us worse than animals,” she said, “They see our brown skin and they stop us and detain us. We have rights. We’re working to keep our families together.”

Another woman, Alicia of Atlanta told of the tightly circumscribed route she drives to take her five-year-old daughter to school and to the hospital. Alicia’s daughter has a seizure disorder that sometimes causes convulsions in the night that require immediate medical attention. Because they cannot afford the charges of an ambulance, sometimes Alicia is forced to drive the girl herself. Last year she was detained by police who would not let her pass, in spite of the fact that she explained in Spanish and English that her daughter could die. Finally a passerby stopped and gave the mother and child a ride to medical help.

Alicia said that she always sees groups of women and children huddled at checkpoints, that police and immigration officers intentionally place checkpoints on routes to hospitals and schools. “They don’t think of us as mothers, as community members,” she said, “They don’t think of us as families.”

The third woman, Annamaria of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and her husband are in the country legally, but were stopped under the new law before their official papers had arrived. Immigration law, she said, is complicated and intricate. She argued that police doing roadside stops aren’t adequately trained to rule in these matters.

She also told of a friend who is in a relationship where she is subject to domestic violence. “She can’t call anyone for help,” Annamaria said, “Living under such stress causes me and many other people deep depression.” She told of losing her job because constant anxiety was ruining her ability to concentrate. It was only through getting involved with immigrant rights groups in her community that she has conquered her anxiety and finally begun to “feel empowered.”

The three women stressed that these stringent anti-immigrant laws are racist and inhumane. Racial profiling and unlawful detention and deportation are tearing families apart and creating a climate of fear and instability that disproportionately affects the lives of women and children.

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work, said, “On the one hand we’re very glad that the Supreme Court struck down several provisions of the law,” she said, “At the same time, we’re deeply concerned that by upholding section 2b, the court has legitimized racial profiling.”

“Caller after caller has told us that now they live in a state of fear,” said Bravo, stressing that these laws have a domino effect. Public discrimination, she said, gives the green light for all manner of private discrimination. Children are being tormented in school by other children and, in some cases, adults. This comes on top of the stress that the children feel each day about possibly coming home and finding their families gone.

“Kids at school every day, they ask themselves, ‘Is this the day when I won’t ever see my parents again?’” she said, “Every kid I know asks themselves this question.”

Section 2(b) of SB 1070 (.pdf) states that police may check the immigration status of detainees if they believe that there is “reasonable suspicion” that the suspects are in the country illegally. This is the “Papers, please” provision that many activists have objected to. The court did not find the measure constitutional, but deferred judgment on the matter.

Karen Tumlin, Managing Attorney, National Immigration Law Center, thanked the three women who spoke, saying that their stories should give us all pause. In Alabama, the ACLU has set up a hotline for immigrants who believe they are being treated unlawfully and reports have come pouring in. Stories that Tumlin said “have been nothing less than heartbreaking.”

Watch a video about this story from We Belong Together, below, embedded via YouTube:

(Image: Yakelin Navidad, her son Nelson Jose, 4 and her husband Nelson at a rally calling for immigration reform and an end to workplace raids May 1, 2009 in Washington, DC. Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com)

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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