Chants of “Si se puede” filled a Two Amigos restaurant in Virginia as women’s rights activists called for a more inclusive immigration reform bill.
The chants came from a town hall in Chantilly, Virginia hosted by Rep. Luis Gutierrez to highlight what he and other immigration proponents said was the harmful impact of the immigration crisis on women and girls in the United States. The panel event coincided with Women’s Equality Day, a holiday that commemorates the 19th amendment which granted women the right to vote.
“Today we celebrate that 93 years ago women obtained the right to vote,” Gutierrez said. “But this afternoon we need to focus on women and immigration.”
Speaking to a captivated audience, Rep. Gutierrez retold stories of meeting immigrant women working in the fields. The Illinois Democrat said that field workers face sexual harassment that they can’t report because of their undocumented status.
“It doesn’t matter where I have visited, garlic fields or citrus fields outside of Orlando or orchards out of Oregon. When I sit down and speak with women in the immigrant community they share with me stories about the horribly oppressive conditions they work in,” he said. “One of the things that will happen with comprehensive immigration reform is that they will be able to document and bring justice to the men that have exploited them for so many decades.”
The panel was coordinated with We Belong Together, a national campaign to engage women in immigration reform and was one of several events held across the nation to place women at the center of immigration reform’s debates.
There are approximately 5.4 million undocumented immigrant women living and working in the United States who are working in the lowest-paying jobs because of their immigration status. In 2011, 208,000 Latina women worked in jobs paying below the federal minimum wage compared to 172,000 Latino men.
Joining Gutierrez were prominent immigrant women leaders. Lilian Flores, a local Virginia area activist, believes a more inclusive immigration policy would keep families united and take into consideration the burden it places on families when one member is deported.
“My aunt went through a hard time when her husband was deported. She has three kids and is working hard every day with no help from anyone,” Flores said.
Ana Machado said that women are the base of the family and without reform that protects their needs, they will be face even more hardships.
“We are mothers, we are wives, we are friends of our kids,” Machado said. “If I am deported, who is going to take care of my children?”
For Flores, the key to getting reform passed is for women across the nation to showcase their political power to pressure legislators to take action.
“The women’s vote counts. Since this day so many years ago, women have been able to make their voices heard,” she said. “Now is the time women should stand up and make their vote count.”