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Latinas At The Intersections: Immigration, Health Care, And The Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court will soon issue decisions on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act health care reform law and the harsh Arizona anti-immigration law SB 1070--two laws that have already had far-reaching consequences for Latinas and could continue to shape our lives for years to come. Each case is complex, and potential outcomes are many. But regardless of how the Court rules in each of these cases, there is no doubt this is a profound moment in our civil and human rights history--one that will impact our collective efforts toward a more just and humane society.

Too often, debates around health care and immigration lack a gender perspective. The issues that define the women's rights movement of today are inexorably tied to these two Supreme Court decisions, not because they specifically speak to gender bias, but rather because the outcome of these decisions defines the societal structures that will oppress or empower women. As Latinas are increasingly cut off from health care, educational and economic opportunities, and reproductive rights, we must use a gender lens to reexamine priorities and solutions across movements.

A chorus of policymakers, advocates, and faith leaders around the globe already champion health as a human right, and some nations have even enshrined this right in their constitutions. But in the United States, health is still treated as a luxury not a right. Today, one in three US Latinos is uninsured--more than any other racial or ethnic group. Latinas face substantial additional obstacles in accessing health care, such as employment, income, immigration status, and language barriers. The result is poor health outcomes, including high rates of cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other serious issues.

Latinas across the country are fighting back. Our Latina Advocacy Network (LAN) in the Texas Rio Grande Valley holds juntas comunitarias (community meetings) on a daily basis to discuss the destructive cuts to women's health services in Texas and to bring attention to the promise of the Affordable Care Act in restoring health and dignity for women in Texas. While the Affordable Care Act doesn't solve all of the problems Latinas face, we know that by putting women's health first we'll take a step toward substantial improvement in health care access for all.

These meetings are also an opportunity to empower women to act as their own advocates. Lucy Felix, NLIRH organizer, always starts the conversation at these meetings by asking women one simple question: "Who is the most important person in your life?" After waiting for replies that include their mother, siblings, children, and partners, she proclaims, "It should be you!"

As Lucy holds these meetings in Texas, our Latina sisters in nearby Arizona face their own set of challenges, including one of the harshest immigration laws in the nation. The Supreme Court will soon decide whether that law should stand; at issue are provisions that criminalize the mere presence of undocumented immigrants and authorize racial profiling by law enforcement. This law creates a hostile environment where Latinas are targeted by the criminal justice system rather than protected by it. Adding insult to injury, the passage of SB1070 and copycat laws across the country has also been accompanied by a flood of troubling anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Laws like SB1070 have a direct impact on women's health care, as well. Once a woman has been detained, she can expect to face the brutal conditions of detention centers. Women have been separated from their children, forced to give birth in shackles, put at high risk for sexual assault and denied access to medical care. Anti-immigrant state laws and detention policies are not only an intrusion on immigrant women's rights, they are an intrusion on all women's health and dignity.

Immigrant women are the backbone of our community. Their health and opportunities affect their ability to provide for and care for their parents, children and partners, and fulfill the dreams for themselves and generations to come. Health care access and the ability to live in a community free from stigma and bias that leads to harmful and even deadly state action are human rights issues.

How the Supreme Court decides these two landmark cases will deeply influence Latinas' ability to keep themselves, their families, and our communities, healthy. Regardless of the ruling however, NLIRH will continue to work toward a comprehensive movement that will reduce racial and ethnic health inequities, that will ensure reproductive health access for Latinas, and demand that all women, regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status, have the opportunity to live healthy lives free from mean-spirited bias and attack.