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Sueños sin Fronteras: A Feminist Roundtable on Immigration

Congress has until midnight today to pass a spending bill, or shutdown the government again. Immigration is at the center of the debate.

It’s been less than three weeks since the last shutdown — a three-day closing that ended after Democrats caved in to Senate Republicans’ promise to consider legislation to protect Dreamers,  or recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The Trump Administration rescinded the program for undocumented youth in September, giving Congress until March 5 to come up with a permanent legislative fix. These “fixes,” of course, are unlikely, leaving nearly 700,000 of immigrant youth — along with millions of undocumented immigrants — increasingly vulnerable to state violence, detention, and deportation.

As immigrant women and children of immigrants both undocumented and documented, we’re intimately familiar with the high stakes around us —  as well why immigration justice must be central to any feminist movement in 2018. This roundtable is a space to share for us to share with you, our readers, why we personally care so much about this issue, and ask you to do the same.

This roundtable is also a challenge: in this era of terrifying violence against the people we love, we at Feministing firmly believe that any feminist publication, organization (or march) must center those who are most vulnerable to state violence as the voices and leaders in our work.

We challenge our peers in this space to elevate immigrant writers — and to share our urgent obligation to not only write about the unjust systems we live in, but to connect the dots between all systems that “other” people and treat them as less than human.

Each of them must be torn down.

BS: Barbara Sostaita is a columnist at Feministing and a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina (UNC), where she works on issues of religion, im/migration, and sanctuary. Follow her on Twitter @barbarasostaita.

JBS: Juliana is a Senior Editor at Feministing, and a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she supports climate justice, women’s rights and immigrant justice campaigns. She is a native of the Bay Area where she lives with her partner. Follow her on Twitter: @JulianaBrittoS.

MJ: Mahroh Jahangiri is an Editor at Feministing, currently organizing with Movimiento Cosecha in Texas, soon-to-be farmer in Vermont, and then-to-be law student in Boston. Follow her on Twitter: @mahrohj.


BS: We’re only one month into 2018, but the Trump Administration has already made many dangerous decisions concerning immigration and threatening immigrants’ lives, especially from countries the president disgustingly called “shitholes.”

The government revoked Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that supports immigrants coming from natural disasters areas or wars, for 260,000 Salvadoran immigrants — meaning that after July 2019, they will no longer be able to live and work legally in the United States. [For women especially, returning to El Salvador means the threat of sexual violence, assault, and even death.] Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is raiding hospitals and mistreating disabled children, targeting and deporting activists who organize against injustice, racially profiling and raiding entire workplaces, and even tracking license plates to follow immigrants’ movements. Border Patrol has been destroying life-saving water supplies left for migrants in the desert literally just for fun, contributing to the deaths of thousands of border crossers.

MJ: Yep, a federal court just ruled that thousands of immigrant children awaiting deportation have no right to an attorney  Both, Democrats and Republicans have offered little other than garbage theatrics and the promise billions of dollars in ICE enforcement, respectively, as hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth near the deadline for losing their legal status under DACA. And it’s not just undocumented migrants that the Administration is targeting: the Department of Justice has began of process of revoking the citizenship naturalized immigrants. And research shows that 10 percent — yes, 10 percent — of those arrested by ICE’s racist round-ups actually have legal status.


MJ: The wins are small for now, but definitely there. Organizers have proven that though the law is inherently a force of violence, it can be manipulated to stall the deportation machine: a federal judge ruled against the government’s attempt to rescind DACA; another ordered the short-term release of immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir. While Ragbir faces a deportation order this weekend, it is “the movement he helped build” that first helped secure his release — and is now deploying smart, creative, and constantly evolving tactics to challenge the government at every urgent turn.

In Florida, farmworker women have launched a national boycott of Wendy’s, joining the movement against corporate executives who have the power to end sexual violence against women in their workplaces and yet, do nothing (join them here). In New York today, undocumented youth announced a two-week march to DC, demanding that Congress pass legislation for Dreamers (help them march here). And in border towns across the country today, young people are bravely speaking out at the U.S. – Mexico border, refusing to be used by crochety liberals as a bartering chip for more violence against their families. I’ve had the immense privilege to organize with some of these young people here in El Paso, Texas this week — and watching dozens of literal strangers stepping further from the comfort of homes, salaries, and for many, safety to build a world with permanent protection for all 11 million undocumented immigrants leaves me with an unshakable hope in my bones.


JBS: I’ve personally learned, for better or for worse, to numb myself to it all. I’m sad to say that I probably read the news less, and have to pick and choose which outrage and horror I’d like to feel today. I am endlessly impressed by those who can keep up the fight each and every day, because I’m still learning how to balance emotional rest and the struggle.

BS: I remember calling my parents the night Trump was elected and begging them to stay home for a few days and to stop speaking Spanish in public. For weeks, I had nightmares that they would be attacked while grocery shopping or running errands. This was the Administration’s plan all along: it’s not just about deporting and detaining migrants, but also about regulating and disciplining our everyday lives. Frankly, I haven’t moved past that fear yet. I’m reacting to the onslaught of attacks on our lives by doing what I can to protect myself and those I love, showing my community tenderness and care, and reminding my loved ones how beautiful and important they are. Like Juliana, I don’t know how to engage in struggle beyond that, beyond surviving and tending to my trauma. Have others figured out a balance?

MJ: Oy this is real. I haven’t found perfect balance but am in an admittedly rare, inspiring place: I just joined Movimiento Cosecha full-time, which is a movement of young people fighting for permanent protection for all immigrants. We’re rooted in economic non-cooperation, civil disobedience, living together in voluntary simplicity and turning to our community — rather than the market — to meet our basic needs (food, healthcare, housing, debt-support). This is my first time formally entering the immigration justice movement. While the barrier to entry seems high — move into a group house! organize full-time! no salary! — my mind has been rocked by the different ways of living within our reach when we are rooted in a community willing to provide our basic material and emotional needs. I’m also just so moved by the young, undocumented folks who have risked arrest, hunger strikes, and deportation to force a national conversation on immigration. It wasn’t our think pieces, or the ACLU, or the thousands of dollars in pink pussy hats that made that happen. It was these people putting bodies on the line. The rest of us can follow lead and do a lot better.


BS: After DACA was rescinded last September, I felt incredibly inspired and energized by the support we received from feminists and other allies. But, in the past few months, as we continue to react to attacks on our lives and fight for a path to citizenship, I’ve felt abandoned by many of those same people. Supporting migrants goes beyond wearing “We are all Dreamers” shirts and requires more than adding an “I Support DACA” sticker to your Facebook profile. And supporting DACA recipients while overlooking other forms of violence and incarceration (the termination of TPS, deportations of activists, and the boom in for-profit immigrant detention centers) is not liberatory. It’s easy to uplift the eloquent DREAMer with straight-A’s and a college acceptance letter. It’s harder — but vital — to advocate for incarcerated immigrants, people risking their lives to cross borders, abuelas who refuse to learn English (I’m thinking of mine), and single mothers and poor, uneducated fathers. A feminist approach to immigration justice has to be intersectional and insurgent. The end goal is not only to turn DREAMers into citizens (although that this an urgent concern), but about disrupting and deconstructing the category of citizenship altogether. It’s about challenging the violent regulation of citizenship and imagining a world where borders don’t keep families apart.

MJ: Yes yes yes. I’ve seen some remarkable inclusion of immigrant women and battles for the dignity of immigrant workers within #MeToo, the Oscars, which feels really good you know? But what feels less good are feminists eager to listen to us narrate sad, rape stories but hesitant to make the institutions that hurt us — the U.S. military, the tech companies funding border walls from Mexico to Israel, the corporations and law firms they work for — the objects of their fight.

JBS: I’m with Barbara here. While the mainstream feminist support of migrants’ has been sweet, I feel like the arguments I’m hearing be recycled are still grounded within an entirely flawed system of thinking. While I understand the impetus to tell the stories of “perfect” immigrants, doing so validates the idea that certain immigrants are more deserving than others, or that the police, or Border Patrol, or ICE are well-intentioned, fundamentally good institutions instead of forces literally invented to oppress brown people. Instead of trying to save a select few people by playing into harmful beliefs around meritocracy, we have to remind the world that our concept of “citizenship” is an arbitrary designation used by powerful, mostly white people to keep brown and black labor cheap, and brown and black people afraid. These are tools which allow them to deny the humanity of people of color and justify their exploitation.


BS: Last fall, I went back to Argentina for the first time since my family immigrated to the United States in 1998. Going back was the one of the most difficult experiences of my life, mostly because it reminded me of everything my family has missed out on these past twenty years: a life defined not by the trauma of displacement but by the comfort of rootedness. As a child, I was happy in Argentina. I smiled a lot. I had a full life. But I’m not supposed to tell you that. We as immigrants are often asked to describe our countries as dying and decaying, scarred by violence, poverty, lack of education, and substandard living conditions. We’re invited to narrate our immigration experiences as the thing that saved us from the same tragedy that befell our homelands. Refugees are especially asked to engage in this discourse; their asylum cases will be dismissed if they don’t. But, when I went back home, all I could think was how desperately I wish we could have stayed.

People in the Global South have been and are being pushed out of our homelands by natural disasters, imperialisms/colonialisms, wars, and global capitalism. My family’s migration resulted from neoliberal reforms that left us penniless and homeless. We came to the United States because we had no other choice, because this country was my parent’s last hope for survival. Calling migration “voluntary” erases the systems and structures in place that force people to move and that rob us of our families and childhoods and memories. To call these forms of migration “voluntary” ignores the violent imperialisms that invade and “restructure” our countries, simultaneously force us to move and keep us from moving (criminalizing us if we do cross borders), and profit from our labor while disavowing our bodies.

MJ: Yeah, frankly, I have been pretty frustrated by this sentiment (which utterly erases non-black indigenous peoples whose land has been settled voluntarily or involuntarily by every single remaining one of us). Let’s be clear: slavery is one particularly unique and hideous form of forced migration. But this attempt at creating a hierarchy of migration — where everything but literal enslavement is “voluntary”— is as callous as it is ahistorical. And for me, it undermines the very purpose of anti-oppression work: to connect the myriad of ways — abduction, drones, climate change — capitalism and white supremacy makes it impossible for brown and black people around the globe to stay in their own homes safely.

I’ll also say that this provides a real jumping off point about a needed conversation around imperial privilege amongst white folks and non-immigrant people of color. This is the sort of privilege that allows Americans (black, brown, and white) to “focus only on the “homeland” and ignore the consequences of their political choices for any other country;” it looks like U.S. citizens/residents deeming all migration voluntary, seeing white-passing folks in places like Palestine, Mexico, or Yemen as privileged because of their skin color while ignoring the violence imposed by their third world status, ignoring our complicity in U.S. imperialism and our general lack of willingness to center non-U.S. citizens in our fights. This failure to consider imperial privilege, I think was especially obvious during that Coates/West saga. I saw so much pushback against the argument that Coates – a black man – should be held responsible for his writing on issues that affect non-black POC abroad (drones, zionism, etc). Brown and black people have it tough here, which undoubtedly clouds our ability to even think of people even more vulnerable than us. But those people exist, in countries bearing the brunt of U.S. military and climate violence in the Global South. And as difficult as it is, I think any meaningful work towards liberation has to center those communities in our fight.


JBS: A discussion of how migration intersects with occupation, and colonization. The United States as we know it was created by colonizers who denied the humanity of indigenous and African people in order to justify enslaving them and stealing from them. Today, that same tactic is used to erase the fact that white people are settlers in this country, and deny brown people access to resources. What’s worse is that the U.S. has exported this concept to support imperialistic wars abroad or occupations on indigenous land in say, Palestine.

BS: I have two comments. First, I agree with Juliana that we need to broaden the conversation to include how the militarization of borders, immigration control and the regulation of citizenship, and the policing of (racialized) migrant bodies extends beyond the United States. The forced movement of refugees around the world, the mass deaths of African migrants crossing the border into Europe, the denial of citizenship status to Haitians in the Dominican Republic, and so on are connected to our own immigration policies and politics. How can we expand our vision and broaden our struggle?

And while I am sometimes hesitant to critique our own movements, it’s important to have conversations around our strategies and tactics. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how our movements are centered on a politics of visibility, on making our presence in this country known and demanding to be seen and recognized by the state. When we make citizenship status the center of our struggle, when we “come out of the shadows” and out ourselves as undocumented, when we seek inclusion into the U.S. body politic, who are we asking to be seen by? And what is the purpose of that ask? Why do we feel the need to be visible and legible by the state? And what are we giving up when we make those asks?


BS: While the past year has been more difficult and traumatic than any I can remember, centering #theresistance around Trump erases the fact that migrants have been organizing for years against the detention, deportation, and violent surveillance of our communities. We’ve been out here demonstrating and demanding better. I want to see more resources and support for those movements, because it’s really frustrating to see people reacting to Trump but ignoring and dismissing the work that’s been done for years. I want to see these voices lifted up because we’re not silent, voiceless, or invisible

JBS: I’ve really enjoyed watching how with every horrifying new attack on immigrants, the fight for immigrant justice becomes more widespread. And man, if young organizers aren’t using their new platforms to organize the shit out of their communities, and mobilize newcomers to the movement.

Young people give me so much hope even in dark times like these, and I want to see more privileged people turning to young leadership as we move into year two of the Trump presidency.


JBS: Aviva Chomsky’s Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal.

BS: Everything from Tina Vasquez, an immigration reporter at Rewire. Also, Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol by Kelly Lytle Hernandez and Jason De León’s The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail.

MJ: Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli.


MJ: My parents moved to the US in the 90s for graduate school, and therefore, had access to the types of mobility denied to many other migrants, refugees, and people of color already living in the US. Despite those protections, I witnessed them deal with unjust pain and make sacrifices. My parents faced discrimination in school — and retaliation when they tried addressing it without legal support. They later dealt, as many Muslims immigrants do, with government surveillance; my fear of the cops kept me from reporting my own sexual assault at the time and led me to dropout of high school. Besides the daily violence, there was — and is still — the pain of separation. My parents missed their siblings’ weddings, childbirths, and all of the equally important life moments in between. And for what?

The tears they, and we their children, shed when we do get to see our family has always made me wonder if there is ever a generation of immigrant children who don’t feel torn between homelands. My parents treat these challenges matter of factly — thinking I imagine — that these were (and will be) simply terms of the deal they had made by entering this country that does not want them. I don’t feel this way. Watching them and many other immigrant communities experience isolation, discrimination, fear, and state violence undoubtedly gives me the motivation that drives me today: anger at injustices I cannot accept; gratitude for the educational and status privilege my parents provided for us; and the deep, urgent obligation to use it in support of liberation.




Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

Read more about Mahroh

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