Immigration and violence against women

The latest battle around immigration will concern the citizenship rights of children born to “illegal” immigrants, today’s New York Times predicts.   It seems some loud-mouthed policymakers in Arizona and other states want to deny the right of some babies born in the US to be Americans.    While the obvious argument against this misguided, anti-immigration strategy is that it arises from a racist, xenophobic desire to keep hispanic, asian, and other people out, I want to discuss the ways in which we should understand it as yet another expression of misogyny and patriarchal politics.

Consider the site of this particular battle: pregnant women.  The current effort to deny citizenship to the offspring of certain children is a direct and bold effort to manipulate women’s reproduction.  White men, such as Russel Pearce, who achieved notoriety for introducing the legislation that makes it a crime to be an “illegal” immigrant in Arizona, want to harras, demonize and punish women for giving birth where and when he says they should not.  In an email quoted by Virilatino, Pearce fulminates:

“If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do.”

The wacko vision is that women deliberately enter the country and “drop” their babies, which become “anchors” that will allow hordes of relatives to slip in and steal jobs from Northern Americans.  There are a number of different and perfectly innocent ways that an immigrant can be charged with “illegal” status, but Pearce and his nasty, misogynist cronies want to “target” all women who fall into this category as though they were a herd of deer or rabbits.  They’ve declared open season and armed their rifles.

As the law currently stands, in this country as well as in a number of other new world nations, the citizenship of a person is determined according to jus soli, a Latin term meaning “right of the soil.”   Meddling reactionaries want to change the law so that citizenship will be determined according to jus sanguinis, which literally means “law of blood.”  They want effectively to overturn the 14th Amendment, which says that it doesn’t matter who the mother is, or what the race, class, or ethnicity of the child is,  but only where that child is born, that confers citizenship.   This important protection was hard-won against racists who wanted to prevent the descendants of African slaves from becoming Americans.

In the battle against undocumented and “illegal” immigrant mothers and their children today, just like in the battle against African-American slaves and their children before the Dred Scott decision, women are considered to be little more than animals that men impregnate, control, and move around for their own benefits.   Why and how a woman has come into this country, or stayed here, or, more importantly, why and how she has become pregnant and then decided to go through with the pregnancy, do not interest the men and women who want to change the law.  Their overriding concern is to limit and control the reproduction of immigrants in order to protect the interests of what they call “natives” (and they don’t mean native Americans).  By Pearce’s own admission, the best way to do that is to “target the mother.”

Let us  return to the opening scene from today’s NYT article:

NOGALES, Ariz. — Of the 50 or so women bused to this border town on a recent morning to be deported back to Mexico, Inez Vasquez stood out. Eight months pregnant, she had tried to trudge north in her fragile state, even carrying scissors with her in case she gave birth in the desert and had to cut the umbilical cord.

“All I want is a better life,” she said after the Border Patrol found her hiding in bushes on the Arizona side of the border with her husband, her young son and her very pronounced abdomen.

Now imagine what Pearce and his gang want to do to this woman:

Arizona, Aliens, and Abortion

What do two laws recently signed by the Republican Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, have in common?  Both unreasonably invade the privacy rights of human beings.  Both laws treat some people as more “alien” and less human than others.

The most talked-about law, SB 1070, makes it a crime to be a woman (or a man) walking or breathing in Arizona without the right identity papers.   SB 1070 effectively legalizes racial profiling and definitively authorizes the police to require anyone–anyone at all–to show evidence that they are not “aliens.”  That word choice is sickeningly ironic, since fear and hatred  for people who don’t look, speak, and act the way that the dominant group thinks they should have inspired this legislation.  And it gets worse!  The law actually allows any Arizonan who thinks that the browner people in the State have not been sufficiently interrogated to bring a lawsuit.

The second law, SB 1305,  is being called a “mini-Stupak” and is the first in the nation to prohibit insurers in the state-run health care exchange “from providing coverage for abortions unless the coverage is offered as a separate optional rider for which an additional insurance premium is charged.”  Mcjoan, writing on the Daily Kos, notes that his bill

prevents insurers from offering abortion services, except under the most extreme circumstances, even if only private money were used to pay for those services. Most if not all women in the exchange would only be able to purchase coverage through an impractical, separate abortion “rider” or leave the exchange entirely and find coverage in the shrinking individual health insurance market. Since it’s unlikely that many insurers will offer abortion riders or that women will purchase them in anticipation of needing an abortion — in fact, “in the five states where abortion riders are currently required, no insurance company offers them” — the Arizona law will severely disadvantage poorer women who would likely have to pay out of pocket for abortion services.

Immigrants are often the poorest people.  This law makes it even harder for immigrant and other women of poor means to make their own choices about their reproductive health.  It effectively forces some women who have gotten pregnant to stay that way.

Let’s just forget about how economically foolish it is to pass a law that will result in the expansion of the very population that the xenophobic racists in the state would like to reduce, and consider the way that both laws invade the privacy of individuals.

Our legal tradition places an incredibly high value on bodily integrity.  Over 100 years ago, the US Supreme Court stated:

No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right to every individual to the possession and control of his [sic] own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by a clear and unquestionable authority of law.  As well said by Judge Cooley, “The right to one’s person may be said to be a right of complete immunity: to be let alone.”

[cit. Susan Bordo, “Are Mother’s Persons?” in Unbearable Weight(UC Press, 1993)]

The women and men who voted for the laws that Governor Brewer signed recently violate the basic right to “be left alone” that the Supreme Court acknowledged so long ago.

Anyone who looks like an “alien,” who doesn’t walk and talk in a way that pleases an Arizona officer of the law has now just lost the right to the possession and control of his or her own person and bodily integrity.  As Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)  exclaimed,

This is a slide back on the rights of each and every American,…Arizona has become ‘a show me your papers’ state. I read the Arizona law, and it’s just replete with the type of broad descriptions that invite discrimination, that invite racial profiling, that invite violations of constitutional rights and civil rights.

The anti-choice legislation that Brewer signed makes it legal for insurance companies to  treat women as less than human than men, who do not need to sign any special riders for legal, medical procedures that can only be performed on men, such as a vasectomy, or treatments for testicular cancer.  Abortion is legal in the United States of America, and insurance companies should not be allowed to discriminate against women by treating procedures that only women undergo differently than procedures than only men undergo.

The Arizona legislation is designed to invade women’s privacy and to prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies.

So are two anti-choice laws recently passed in Oklahoma.  The governor of that state, Brad Henry, a Democrat, vetoed both laws.  The legislature voted to override.  One of them requires a doctor or technician to set up an ultrasound monitor so the woman can see the fetus before she aborts it.  The doctor or technician must then describe its heart, limbs and organs.  No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.  This legislation is designed to torment and punish a woman for exercising her constitutional right to choose.

The other law, as Governor  Henry explained, grants “a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform pregnant women in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on a patient.”  It protects doctors who withhold information about the disability or malformation of the fetus from suing after birth.

Let us not forget what the anti-choicers are after:  they want to force every women who gets pregnant, no matter how, to stay pregnant.

They want to the law to reflect their belief that women’s bodies are nothing more than incubators, and that a woman’s body, faith, rationality, psychological and/or physical well-being are secondary to the so-called “right to life” of a mass of cells.

This theologically driven agenda treats the fetus–or even a zygote–as a “human being” endowed with “rights” that override the rights of a living, breathing adult woman.   Susan Bordo refers to this way of thinking as the “subjectification of fetal being” that points out that it amounts to an attack on the personhood of women:

The nature of pregnancy is such …that to deprive the woman of control over her reproductive life–whether by means of involuntary or coerced sterilization, court-ordered cesarean, or forbidden abortion–is necessarily also to mount an assault on her personal integrity and autonomy (the essence of personhood in our culture) and to treat her merely as pregnant res extensa, material incubator of fetal subjectivity.

Anti-choicers who subscribe to this thinking deliberately disregard the beliefs, choice, health, and well-being of the mother while they elevate  the thing inside of her to the status of a “super subject” whose alleged rights supercede her own.

Anti-choicers treat the mother as the “alien” or the “thing” whose rights are less meaningful than the fetus inside. They  elevate their will and desires over the will and desires of those others.  In short, they regard pregnant women as “aliens” whose rights to breathe, walk, work, and make choices are non-existent in comparison to the rights of the narrow-minded people who  change the laws.

What have the people of Arizona have just shown us?  that it’s not just Mexicans, Latinos, and other darker-skinned people  whom they treat  as less than human “aliens,” but also women, especially mothers.