Jennifer L. Pozner
As I write this, I’m watching an important segment on “To The Contrary,” PBS’s weekly women’s political and current affairs debate show, on the underreported issue of sexual assault as an exceptionally regular aspect of border crossing for women immigrants.
According to T.O.C. host Bonnie Erbe:
“New studies by the United Nations Development Fund for Women show sexual abuse on the rise among women illegally crossing the U.S. border from Mexico. Rape is so common it’s viewed as the price of admission to America. Some even take birth control before crossing to avoid pregnancy… So-called ‘border bandits’ prey on those crossing the U.S. Mexican border illegally. Women are more vulnerable because their percentages have risen among illegal immigrants. They’re also leaving behind more children in Mexico and Central American countries. If caught and returned, they’re often physically abused again in the Mexican border towns where U.S. agents leave them.”
To give viewers a deeper understanding of the impact of immigration on undocumented women, Erbe interviewed Marijke Velzeboer-Salcedo, chief, Latin America and the Caribbean section of the U.N. Development Fund for Women, who explained that:
“Between 60 % 70% of women do experience some abuse, of the women who cross the border alone (because some of the women do cross the border with their husbands or their families). But many of the women do go alone and we know that among the Mexican nondocumented immigrants, 45% are women. And in Guatemala it’s 35% and it’s rising.”
With some exceptions, much immigration coverage in recent months has focused on male activists leading protests, undocumented men working as day laborers, male DJs at Spanish-language radio stations informing listeners about the importance of attending immigration demonstrations, and the like. But as this To The Contrary segment illustrates, there are serious reasons why women’s perspectives are needed in immigration coverage–and serious ways to frame immigration as specifically relevant to women.