On International Women’s Day, not all women can go on strike

One undocumented woman says she could face retaliation.

Protesters take part in a No Ban, No Wall rally to support the rights of immigrants and oppose a border wall on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
Protesters take part in a No Ban, No Wall rally to support the rights of immigrants and oppose a border wall on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

On International Women’s Day, the organization that spearheaded the Women’s March over Inauguration Weekend is leading “A Day Without a Woman” — a call to action for women around the world to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, to shop only at women-only or minority-owned businesses, and to wear red in solidarity. They’re hoping to send a strong message about women’s economic power and build a coalition in support of women’s rights to counter the Trump administration’s agenda.

But some women — particularly immigrants, low-wage workers, and working mothers — cannot participate in a national strike because they’re worried about losing their jobs or because they rely on their daily income.

Maricela, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who didn’t want to be identified by her full name because of fear of reprisal from federal immigration agents, is one of many women who is unable to take the day off work on Wednesday, even though she is supportive of the strike’s goals.

“I would like to support this strike, but I can’t do that,” Maricela said.

Maricela has worked as a housekeeper in Austin, Texas for the past 17 years. Losing a day’s worth of income would strain her family’s finances. One day’s wages translate to having money for groceries, gas, financial support for her children, and remittances saved up to send to her parents in Mexico, she told ThinkProgress in a phone interview.

Taking Wednesday off could also put her at risk of being fired. She said her employers rarely sympathize with the significance of these nationwide labor events. And if she is fired, her lack of immigration status would make it difficult for her to find other clients.

Maricela wishes she could participate because she is otherwise a staunch advocate for civil and immigrant rights.

“That feels uncomfortable for me because I’m always involved in civil rights and I would like to continue to support and fight,” Maricela said. “It’s important for me and other women.”

But she said she will support the day in other ways. As suggested by national organizers, Maricela will not buy anything on Wednesday.

“I would like to support this strike, but I can’t do that.”

This kind of abstention could have strong economic impact on the U.S. economy since immigrants like Maricela make up a growing share of the consumer buying power. As the nonpartisan policy center Immigration Policy Council pointed out in 2015, Latinos and Asians “wield $2 trillion in consumer purchasing power, and the businesses they owned had sales of $857 billion and employed 4.7 million workers at last count.”

And after Wednesday passes, Maricela will remain an advocate for progressive immigration policies in her community. After the recent enforcement raids throughout the country, she has been “very involved” in holding weekly “Know your rights” workshops to help people understand what to do if agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency show up at their door and ask to see their papers.

President Donald Trump’s comments about Latinos have made her feel targeted and “like a criminal,” a feeling that has only heightened her fear of deportation since he was elected. She said the stereotypes and slurs against the immigrant community are unfounded.

Aside from advocating for her rights as a woman, she wants people to see her as simply human.

“Trump says we are bad people, but I don’t think we are bad people,” Maricela said. “We are working really, really hard. Nobody gave us nothing, only our work. I do not feel safe.”