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Gendered Assaults: The Attack on Immigrant Women

Gendered Assaults: The Attack on Immigrant Women

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DifferenTakes Issue #6, Fall 2000
"If you opened a newspaper in Iowa this spring, you might have come across an advertisement stating: 'How do you feel about paving over the amber waves of grain, the purple mountain majesties and the fruited plain?' If you read the small print, you found not the anticipated environmental message, but a proposal to drastically reduce immigration to the U.S. to 200,000 people a year."
by Syd Lindsley
DifferenTakes Issue #6, Fall 2000
"If you opened a newspaper in Iowa this spring, you might have come across an advertisement stating: 'How do you feel about paving over the amber waves of grain, the purple mountain majesties and the fruited plain?' If you read the small print, you found not the anticipated environmental message, but a proposal to drastically reduce immigration to the U.S. to 200,000 people a year."
by Syd Lindsley

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Published by: Population & Development Program (PopDev) on Oct 15, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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by Syd LindsleyIf you opened a newspaper in Iowa thisspring,you might have come across anadvertisement stating:How do you feelabout paving over the amber waves ofgrain,the purple mountain majesties andthe fruited plain?”
If you read the smallprint,you found not the anticipated environ-mental message,but a proposal to drasti-cally reduce immigration to the U.S.to200,000 people a year.The ad states:…every year in America we pave an areaequal to the state of Delaware…Why?Because our nation’s population is growingat an unprecedented rate,due primarily toan immigration policy that’s changing thelandscape of America.”
c/o Population & Development ProgramHampshire College-CLPPAmherst,MA01002-5001 USA413/559-6046 fax 413/559-6045http://hamp.hampshire.edu/~clpp/popdev.htmlOpinions expressed in this publicationare those of the individual authors unlessotherwise specified.
Iowa isn’t the only state besieged by anti-immigrant media cam-paigns.Local and national anti-immigrant groups,such as NegativePopulation Growth (NPG),the Federation for AmericanImmigration Reform (FAIR),ProjectUSA,and the CaliforniaCoalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR),are erecting billboardsand placing print,TV,and radio ads in locales across the nation.
This resurgence of anti-immigrant organizing began in the 1990s,as many politicians,organizations,and individuals cast blame onimmigrants as the source of the nation’s social,economic,andenvironmental problems.While deepening economic inequality in the U.S.has set thestage for the resurgence of anti-immigrant scapegoating,economicmatters alone are not enough to explain the force with whichanti-immigrant opinion has taken hold in the public arena.Therecent revival of nativism is also motivated by white U.S.residents’anxieties about the changing racial demographics caused by thesustained immigration of non-white foreigners.In the last threedecades,the majority of immigrants have been non-white;themajority of today’s immigrants are either Asian or Latino.The migration of so many non-white individuals to the countrythreatens to destabilize the core connection between whiteness andAmerican-ness that comprises the mythology of a homogenousAmerican”national identity,a prospect that has put many whiteU.S.residents on edge.Indeed,the threat”of a non-white
Gendered Assaults:The Attackon Immigrant Women
majority in the United States has sparkedmajor outcry.In 1994,presidential candi-date Pat Buchanan warned,A non-whitemajority is envisioned if today’s immigra-tion continues.”Given this prediction,heargued that the U.S.needed a “time out”from immigration.
In this wave of anti-immigrant sentiment,politicians and immigration “reformgroups are taking aim at immigrant womenand children in particular.As mothers,immigrant women are especially dangerousin the eyes of today’s nativists because oftheir capacity to give birth to non-whitecitizen children.Of course,most anti-immigrant politicians and organizationsdeny such racist and sexist motives,preferring more palatable economic andenvironmental arguments.Immigrant women and children are alsotargeted for a second reason.The U.S.government and employers rely on a low-cost temporary labor reserve of migrantmen and women to whom they have noobligation to provide education,healthinsurance,or other services.The settlementof immigrant families,including children,shifts the cost of reproduction (bothbiological and social) from the sendingcountry to the U.S.While governmentand employers want to obtain profits fromimmigrant labor,they don’t want to bearthe costs of reproducing the labor force.The so-called “environmental”anti-immigrant perspective claims that immigra-tion and the higher fertility rates of immi-grants are causing overpopulation and thusenvironmental degradation.The green”attack on immigrants is lodged securelywithin a population control frameworkwhich maintains that halting populationgrowth is the key to stemming poverty,envi-ronmental degradation,and even war.U.S.anti-immigrant rhetoricblames immigrants and their children for perpetuating poverty,increasing scarcity,and destroying the environment.For example,a1996 advertisement from NPG reads:Immigration is the driving force behind the populationgrowth that is devastating our environment and thequality of our lives.
Primarily because of immigration we are rushing at breakneck speed toward an environ- mental and economic disaster 
[emphasis included]
FAIR’s The Environmentalist’s Guide to a Sensible ImmigrationPolicyevokes the threat of immigrant women’s reproduction in asection heading:Immigration’s Invisible Multiplier:Offspring.
FAIR and other anti-immigrant organizations often refer to thedanger of so-called “chain migration,”a.k.a.immigration throughfamily reunification laws.FAIR warns that “a single immigrant whois admitted for needed job skills,or out of humanitarianconcerns,or for some other reason,can become the link in anunbreakable chain of family migration.”
FAIR and other groupsare lobbying for laws that would restrict family reunification.Women would be the primary victims of such legislation,since thevast majority of women immigrants come through family-basedimmigration laws.Furthermore,such reforms would create unneces-sary hardship by prolonging the separation of immigrant families.In the economic realm,immigrants and their children are blamedfor depleting social services budgets,especially in areas where thereis a concentrated population of foreign-born residents,such asCalifornia.In the 1990s,many immigration reform”proponentsbegan suggesting legislation aimed at decreasing the availability ofsocial services to immigrants,especially undocumented ones.Although undocumented immigrants were never eligible for mosttypes of welfare and Medicaid,recent legislation has attempted toreduce the few services available to all types of immigrants evenfurther.Much of this legislation directly targets and affectsimmigrant women and children.For example,early in the 1990s,California Rep.Elton Galleglysuggested a constitutional amendment that would deny citizenshipto children born in the United States to undocumented parents,aproposal that some anti-immigrant organizations currently endorse.In another example,California’s Proposition 187,which appeared onthe 1994 ballot,would have prohibited local and state agencies from
providing publicly funded social services,education,welfare,and non-emergencyhealth care to any person whom they do notverify as a U.S.citizen or lawfully admittedalien.Proponents of Prop 187 stressed thebar on public support for prenatal care forundocumented women.The phrase,Two outof three babies delivered at Los Angelescounty hospitals were born to undocument-ed women,”became a rallying cry of theProp 187 campaign,even though this statis-tic is highly questionable.
Clearly,Proposition 187 proponents placed littlevalue on the reproductive health of undocu-mented women and their children.Proposition 187’s proposed ban on publiceducation funds for undocumented childrenwas also an attempt topermanently exclude these children fromintegration into U.S.society.Just two years following Proposition 187’sassault on undocumented immigrants inCalifornia,the US Congress passed a billthat accomplished many of the same goals,this time on a national level.The bill wasthe Personal Responsibility and WorkOpportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996(PRWORA),popularly known as the wel-fare reform act.The Act had a significantimpact on the way both documented andundocumented immigrants may use publicservices.The Act imposed restrictions onlegal”immigrants’use of services,andbanned “illegal”immigrants’use of mostpublic services altogether.The Act alsogave states greater ability to deny stateand local assistance to undocumentedimmigrants.Immediately after the enact-ment of PRWORA,former CaliforniaGovernor Pete Wilson made prenatal carethe first target of his campaign to enactthe federal law’s ban on state and localassistance to illegal”immigrants.Although Proposition 187 was declared unconstitutional,andWilson’s ban on undocumented women’s access to prenatal carewas eventually overturned by his successor,Gray Davis,thesemeasures continue to have a very real effect on immigrant women’sreproductive health and access to services.A recent Urban Institutestudy points to a noticeable “chilling effect”on immigrants’willing-ness to access health care and other benefits.The authors find thatthe nationwide decline in immigrants’access to such programs isdue less to actual eligibility changes than toimmigrants’fear and suspicion around using these programsthe chilling effect”of welfare reform.
In fact,the attacks on immigrant women’s ability to reproduceand maintain their families form the root of the recent assault onimmigrants.Attacks on legal and illegal immigrants’rights topublic services,including prenatal care,schooling for immigrantchildren,Aid to Families with Dependent Children,and non-emergency health care are all attempts to regulate and controlimmigrant women’s reproductive work.The right to choose whether to have or not to have children is afundamental reproductive and human right for all women.Contemporary anti-immigrant politics attempt to place govern-mental restrictions on immigrant women’s ability to make theirown reproductive choices.Furthermore,in the context of a nationalistic,anti-immigrantsocial and political climate,the assault on immigrant women’sreproduction is fundamentally an assault on their right tocontribute to the next generation of citizens.It is an attempt tocontrol
may be considered American”and to excludeundocumented immigrants,particularly Latinos and Asians,from the rights bestowed on citizens.Although California was a hotspot for anti-immigrant activism andlegislation during the 1990s,campaigns to foster anti-immigrantfeeling and drastically cut immigration are well underway in allregions of the nation.More and more often,the message they aresending relies heavily on population control ideology,and perpetu-ates racist ideals of a homogenous white America.The implications are clear:there are too many outsidersin thiscountry,and wemust do everything we can to keep their numbersdown.In anti-immigrant propaganda,references to the higher fertil-ity”of recent immigrants suggest that immigrantsfertility rates are

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