By Dinah Chung, NAPAWF law intern
The National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights (NCIWR) kicked off its first in-person convening on June 12, 2008. As part of the steering committee, NAPAWF, along with the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) organized this historic convening for people to share information, network, and collectively begin to develop a proactive immigrant women’s rights agenda.
Over thirty participants attended the Convening and engaged in a comprehensive discussion around the Coalition’s objectives, past and upcoming immigration legislation, current issues regarding detention centers, and potential next steps for the Coalition. One exciting discussion focused on NCIWR’s plans to launch a “Liberation Campaign” that would raise awareness around the specific issues (such as sexual assault) that immigrant women detainees face. The guest speakers were one of the highlights of the gathering—they included Noelle Lee, health staffer for Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), Michelle Brane from the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and Pabitra Benjamin from the Rights Working Group. Ms. Brane, for example, gave a compelling description of visits to detention centers where she handled sexual assault complaints and documented accounts of inhumane treatment towards pregnant women and separation of mothers from their children.
Overall, the attendees agreed that the day was productive and informative. Everyone especially appreciated the chance to come together and learn about how their own organization can take on a significant role in carrying out the Coalition’s agenda.
Having just started my summer stint with NAPAWF a week before, I could not fully appreciate or understand the depth of such a Convening at the time. The different member organizations included immigrant rights groups, women’s rights groups, and faith-based groups. The power behind such an intersection of race, gender, and religion was beyond me, and needless to say, I had much to learn. After a solid six weeks of being here at NAPAWF, I am beginning to piece together the importance of such a meeting. What I have come to appreciate is that NCIWR is not just another coalition; it is a movement among social justice groups to recognize the power of organizations with sometimes different objectives and goals coming together to support one purpose. Consequently, there is a stronger voice, more resources, and a greater pool of people ready to be mobilized. All of this combined with everyone’s energy and passion is a potent stimulus for change. NCIWR represents a united front and an effort to acknowledge immigrant women’s rights as human rights.