For organizers like Celeste Faison, the fight for civil rights isn’t limited to the U.S.-born black community. It also extends to immigrants who experience hardships caused by what she sees as the nation’s broken immigration system.
“Our struggles are not necessarily the same in every aspect, but our experiences are similar,” said Faison, who is the black organizing coordinator for the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Faison was among the group of women who traveled to Arizona on Wednesday to discuss how immigrants in Arizona – especially women – are affected by immigration laws, including the state’s controversialSB 1070. The trip came on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the signing of SB 1070, which allows police officers to question the immigration status of individuals who they believe are in the country illegally.
The law was challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck many of its provisions, but upheld the provision on questioning individuals about their status when reasonable suspicion exists, which some referred to as the "Show Me Your Papers" provision.
They visited Tent City, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio houses immigrants awaiting possible deportation. They also stopped at an immigration detention center before traveling to Tucson where they witnessed how a federal court processes up to 70 people per day with criminal immigration-related charges. They also planned to cross the border to Mexico to meet people who were recently deported.
Faison said she learned about some of the experiences immigrants face through a former co-worker who was a teenager when her parents were deported to Mexico. That helped her understand how undocumented immigrants live in fear of being deported and said that fear is similar to what African Americans feel when they see a cop.
“There are similar experiences of trauma in our every day lives that we have to deal with and that should be a uniting factor that brings us together,” Faison said.
Although much of the immigrant population is Latino, immigrants to the U.S. have a variety of backgrounds. Pew Research Center recently reported that black immigrants account for 8.7 percent of the country’s black population, almost triple their share in 1980. About 16 percent of all black immigrants living in the U.S. are here illegally, Pew estimated. Many are from Spanish-speaking countries.
Andrea Cristina Mercado, co-chair of We Belong Together campaign, said that for the last five years her group has been hosting trips to Arizona, which is considered ground zero for the debate on immigration. She said she sees this year’s trip as “an opportunity to bring together women both from the immigrant rights movement and from the black liberation movement to talk about what our communities are experiencing,” particularly women.
“People often don’t really talk about immigrant women who are being held in detention centers and being torn apart from their families—or the ways that women really bear the burden when their husbands are deported. They have to find a way to put food on the table and pay rent,” she said.
Frida Espinosa Cárdenas, who also went on the trip, agreed with Mercado. She is a coordinator for the Institute for Women and Migration, a bi-national group based in Mexico City that helps women integrate back into society when they are deported to Mexico.
Through her work, Cárdenas said she sees how women are affected by deportation. She said one of the biggest challenges women face when they’re deported is fighting to keep custody of their children who remain in the United States.
“We’ve worked with women who’ve lost custody of their children,” she said, adding that she wants to work with U.S. officials so that this doesn’t happen anymore.
Other women who participated in the trip represented groups such as the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the AFL-CIO and the Puente Movement.