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Jessica González-Rojas Headshot

Is Arizona the Worst Place in the Country to Be a Latina?

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Any day now, the United States Supreme Court is expected to issue two landmark decisions -- concerning the Affordable Care Act health reform law and the harsh Arizona anti-immigrant law SB 1070. Collectively, these decisions will have a profound impact on the lives of millions of Latinas. Both cases point to relentless and harmful legislative attacks that have targeted women and immigrants and distracted policymakers from addressing the real issues Latinas, and most Americans, care about: the need for comprehensive immigration reform and health care policy that keeps women and our families safe and healthy.

While nearly every state in the nation has seen some level of attacks on women's health care and immigrant communities, Arizona seems to be vying for first place in the Oppressor Olympics. Arizona is one-third Latina, yet has led the charge against our communities by entertaining a parade of dangerous policies and law enforcement practices laced with gender bias, anti-family, and anti-immigrant sentiment. Arizona elected officials have recently banned public schools from teaching ethnic studies, enacted laws that say people can be stopped by law enforcement if they look like an immigrant (whatever that means), and in one jurisdiction forced male immigrant detainees to wear pink underwear as a form of humiliation. A recent report by the National Partnership for Women and Families found that Arizona Latinas are paid just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, "children in Arizona are more likely to be poor, uninsured and part of a family whose home has been foreclosed than most American kids."

Something is very wrong in Arizona. Governor Brewer has created an alliance with conservative Governor's nationwide who are pushing the Supreme Court to overturn recent healthcare reforms that have resulted in unprecedented expansion of access to health care for millions, including Arizona Latinas. And if the U.S. Supreme Court does not intervene, Latinas in the state will live under one of the harshest immigration laws in the country -- one that that is sure to encourage racial profiling and further stigmatization of people of color. A shameless leader in the nationwide War on Women, the Arizona state legislature has repeatedly attacked access to reproductive health care. Politicians have placed conservative social politics above the health of Latinas by attempting to defund Planned Parenthood, the source of primary care for many women and men in our community. Already women immigrants are less likely than whites to have access to adequate reproductive health care and life-saving preventive services.

Sadly, the effects of Arizona's bad policies don't end when you cross the state line, as many states have followed Arizona's bad example in exacting anti-immigrant laws and restrictions on women's access to health care. Whether it's defunding clinics in Texas, the SB 1070 copycat law in Alabama, or the slew of restrictions on abortion that moved through Florida's legislature this spring--whatever is wrong is Arizona seems to be catching.

My organization, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), has worked hard to help Latinas lift their voices on these issues--using Arizona as our rallying cry. And we have a lot to say: Latinas across the country are organizing for access to reproductive health care and preventive services without expensive co-pays. Local activists nationwide are leading the fight, such as the Coalición de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition) in Arizona who are ensuring that the public hears the voices of immigrants. At the national level just last month Latinas helped defeat the misguided federal "PRENDA" abortion bill, a mirror image of a recently enacted Arizona law that abortion opponents cloak in the language of civil rights while stigmatizing women immigrants and limiting their options for reproductive care. Somos poderosas, and we will not let these attacks go unnoticed, or unopposed.

There is urgency in this moment. The Obama administration took a groundbreaking first step toward greater justice for immigrants and their families with its recent decision to provide relief from deportation for DREAMers. Now, we look to Congress to follow this lead.

Yet, for the growing optimism nationally, locally in Arizona and other states around the country, Latinas are at the crux of the attacks on reproductive rights and the assaults on immigrant families. And states with the largest Latino/a communities have introduced some of the most problematic policies, threatening to undercut or even eliminate some of the important federal progress secured this year.

Somehow, too many state lawmakers are still missing the mark, ignoring that they were elected to serve the best interests of the people -- all of us. Nearly 10 million of us voted in 2008, and at least 50,000 new Latino/a citizens turn 18 every month. The political and demographic writing on the wall is unmistakable: the well being Latinas and our families is central to our nation's future, and our voices will be heard.

We will not sit by and watch more violations of our rights, health, and safety pass through the state legislatures, and we will not allow Congress to defer the important work of reforming our broken immigration system and addressing the shameful health disparities in this country. We deserve better -- all of us, without regard to ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or immigration status. Let's commit ourselves, as Latinas and allies, Americans together, to ending stigma and shame and to mobilizing for human rights.

We have work to do--and not just in Arizona.