THE BLOG

No Country for Brown Women

06/14/2010 10:37 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On 11 February 2009, Celia Alejandra Alvarez-Herrera was arrested by a sheriff's deputy in a workplace raid during which her jaw was dislocated against a wall. Regrettably, my notes are obscured by a teardrop that escaped me as she described being beaten with a clipboard for crying out for medical treatment while in Sheriff Joe Arapaio's custody.

Tears were status quo yesterday afternoon in the packed committee room in the Longworth building on Capitol Hill. Some staunch stoics (like me) fought them. Other empassioned advocates (like Rep. Jared Polis) did not.

"They called me bitch," Alvarez-Herrera testified, in Spanish, about her detention. "They called me 'doggie.'" They told her to go back to Mexico, she said. They also threw her Bible in a trash can and would not give it back, she continued, in Spanish, in tears.

"It's true that we're migrants," Herrera-Alvarez admitted, in Spanish, during her testimony, "but why don't they ask us why we migrated?"

"Why do they ask us for papers to work but not to go to war?" she cried.

Alvarez-Herrera's arrest separated her from her four children, she testified, the youngest being only three months-old at the time of her arrest. Her five year-old son, she continued, nearly died during his mother's detainment, from complications due to asthma.

Before she was arrested, Alvarez-Herrera worked as a street cleaner in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jurisdiction -- one of millions of employment opportunities just-indignant-enough during Boom Times to require brown staffers. Once in the Arpaio's custody, Herrera-Alvarez "never received medical attention," according to her biography distributed to press at the hearing. "Now, she requires continued medical treatment due to this negligence."

Herrera-Alvarez did not come to Capitol Hill alone. She did not testify alone before our congress. Silvia Rodriguez testified alongside her. Rodriguez, 23, "was left homeless when her family decided to move to another state due to the increasing anti-migratory laws in Arizona." At the time, Silvia was a student at Arizona State University studying for dual bachelors degrees in political science and Chicano studies. Nevertheless, she graduated Cum Laude and has been accepted to study at the Harvard Education School this autumn.

"A group of benefactors offered to pay her tuition," according to Rodriguez' biography, "but may rescind the offer because of language in SB 1070 about retaliation against those who help anyone who is undocumented." She too fell to tears during her testimony. "The state I call home criminalizes me," Rodriguez said. "I did not have control over where I was born."

Rodriguez was 2-years-old when her family immigrated to Arizona.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching of the day's testimony came from Catherine Figueroa, 9, whose parents were arrested by Arpaio's deputies in a workplace raid and detained for three months. Catherine spoke of nightmares she has in which "they" come to arrest her other relatives, as well. "Please tell President Obama to stop putting our parents in jail," she pleaded, in English, in tears. "All they want is a better life for us!"

A better life, too, was why Alma Mendoza came to testify before our congress. "My children and I survived domestic violence for 15 years," Mendoza said, in a press release distributed at the hearing. "Now with SB1070, women will be afraid to call the police. They will suffer in silence."

Rep. Judy Chu, from Los Angeles, noted that already women from Arizona are coming to California seeking services resulting from domestic abuse.

Congresspersons Chu, Luis Gutierrez, Gwen Moore, and Hank Johnson made statements, but only Rep. Raúl M. Grijavla, chairman of the ad-hoc hearing on "The Impact of Arizona's SB1070 on Women and Children", and Rep. Polis, stayed for the full hearing.