05/13/2010 11:29 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Families Ripped Apart in Arizona

On Mother's Day, a group of national feminist and labor leaders, journalists, and organizers traveled to Phoenix to document the experiences of women in the wake of SB 1070.

The testimony we heard makes clear in vivid and haunting detail how SB 1070 constitutes a violation of every principle we hold dear to safeguard women as mothers, workers and leaders in families and communities. It paves the way for assaults on the basic human rights of women who came here simply to support their families, and creates an environment in which violence against women and children (physical, spiritual and legal) has been state-sanctioned.

Women and children courageously recalled traumatic experiences. Their testimony reveals the horrific consequences of raids, harassment and detention of family members in migratory communities -- as well as incredible resistance.

These acts rip families apart.

"I never knew this could happen," said Catherine, age 9 and a U.S. citizen. Both her parents were arrested in a workplace raid.

These acts rob women of the right to support their loved ones.

"We were just trying to survive," said Sandra, Catherine's mother. Even those who've been on the job for a long time face increased workplace harassment. Benita, a public worker for 23 years, told us, "They give me more things to do because of my color; they're always telling me to do something about my accent."

These acts force women to live with physical and sexual violence.

"If the law goes through," one woman said, "I don't think any woman will call the police again. It will be chaos."

These acts subject women to humiliation and violence from enforcement agents.

Alejandra suffered a broken jaw when she was detained and then was denied medical care. Laura and others were refused the most basic sanitary supplies and subject to degradation from prison guards.

These acts scar children and force some to parent their younger siblings.

We heard from children who watched in horror as a parent was arrested, or came home to an empty house and a call from immigration, kids who draw pictures of living in a house in a cage. "They're damaging our soul," Esperanza told us. "The scars will be there forever."

These acts rob students of access to education.

We met a brilliant student accepted to a masters' program at Harvard and promised financial aid by a group of supporters here, who now worry that SB 1070 could mean jail for providing this help. Other teenagers have left school in order to earn income lost with a parent's detention.

These acts instill distrust of those who should be protectors.

Mary Rose Garrido Wilcox from the Board of Supervisors told us she had to ask the sheriff's office not to send representatives to the annual student baseball outing. "The kids are so afraid of those brown shirts," she said, "they won't come if the sheriffs are there." Terri said she often gives people rides to the doctor or the store. "Since SB 1070 was signed," she told us, "a lot of people haven't been coming out, even to get free food."

These acts have also given rise to a dynamic and growing movement of women and families.

The families of Arizona present a way forward and direct challenge to the bigotry that is spreading across the country. One young leader recited from her poem: "There is no need to debate, because my dreams are much larger than your hate." As Sandra told us, "They have wakened a giant." What advice did she have, we asked Catherine? "Luchar!" - "Fight back!"

As women from a broad array of social justice movements, we are inspired by the resistance we witnessed and the determination to solidify this growing movement. We call on our nation's leaders to hear these fearless testimonies first-hand and confront the realities of the people for whom they are responsible.

We ask the leaders of the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues to hold a hearing for the women of Arizona in Washington, DC. We request that First Lady Michelle Obama also commit to meeting with them.

We know that President Obama could stop this insanity with the stroke of a pen by terminating the 287(g) agreements and the Secure Communities programs, which involve local police in immigration enforcement, and we call on him to do so immediately. These policies have enabled some of the most egregious abuses by local law enforcement, harassing and arresting people on small violations such as dogs barking.

The women we heard told us repeatedly, "We are humans. We are not animals. We are not criminals." We call on our nation's leaders and all those committed to a just and humane society to heed these cries, stop the raids, and stop the criminalization of migratory women, their families and communities.

Ellen Bravo directs Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions working for paid sick days and paid family leave. Grace Chang is an author and scholar on immigrant women; she teaches Feminist Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara.