About 100 women activists fasted for 48 hours this week to convey the message that “Immigration reform is a women’s issue.” A major part of their message was that a disproportionate number of women immigrants come here as dependent spouses whose partners have work visas, or to reunite with family members, but cannot work themselves. Even when they do work, women immigrants are particularly susceptible to sexual abuse and coercion on account of their status.
Domestic worker Pat Francois said her boss verbally and physically assaulted her and “threatened to have her deported if she challenged him.” Other women go through similar harrowing experiences, often because men “who raped these women knew who to target and how to capitalize on their institutionally supported power over these undocumented women,” according to sociology professor Sylvanna M. Falcon.
Just about every step of the migration experience could pose potential harms. Just last month, a Border Patrol agent brutally assaulted and raped three border crossers. The women were suspected to have just come across the Rio Grande Valley when the agent Esteban Manzanares found them. He raped a woman and sexually assaulted his daughter before trying to break her neck. He kidnapped another girl, finished his shift, then “went home and sexually assaulted” her. Once FBI agents arrived outside his home, the agent took his own life.
According to Amnesty International, “an estimated six out of ten migrant women and girls experience sexual violence” when they cross the border. Women immigrants are especially vulnerable given that “violent rape or the demand for sex as the price of safe passage to el norte is an old custom.” “Coyotes,” or human smugglers, are oftentimes the ones who require those women to get birth control because they will later rape them. As a result, some women prepare their journey by stopping at a pharmacy in Mexico to buy contraceptives because they fear the consequences of being raped while they’re crossing the border.