Sandra Fluke took a different-than-expected tack in her speech at Kansas University on Wednesday night, by making the case that women's rights and immigrant rights are one and the same.
The women's rights advocate said that all Americans must, citing the name of her speech, "make their voices heard" to stand up for the often underrepresented group.
“Our immigrant brothers’ fight and our immigrant sisters’ fight is our fight too,” she said. “I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to be an ally.”
Fluke, who rose to prominence last year after testifying before a U.S. House panel about the need for contraception access and subsequently being called a "slut" and "prostitute" by conservative talker Rush Limbaugh, gave the 2013 Emily Taylor and Marilyn Stokstad Women's Leadership Lecture in the Woodruff Auditorium at the Kansas Union before a crowd of hundreds. She chose to focus on immigration reform because of Congress' current focus on the issue. “This is our generation’s chance to get this right," she said.
She contended that the U.S. has an “employment-based” immigration system. Four out of five job visas go to men, she remarked, while women can wait as long as 20 years to reunite with their families in the States. Same-sex couples are unable to immigrate together because, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, their unions aren’t recognized by the federal government. Federal-immigration reform, she said, must focus on “family unity,” or “the right of all families to stay together regardless” of the circumstances. A new immigration system must also allow for stay-at-home mothers, she said.
Immigrant women are also at an increased risk for violence, Fluke asserted, whether because of smugglers, human traffickers or exploitative partners. Many are “trapped in modern-day slavery,” she said. Domestic-abuse victims are less likely to call the police because of the threat of deportation. U Visas prevent that problem by giving crime victims a path to citizenship; that policy must be expanded, Fluke said.
Women are also more likely to lack health insurance because they work at jobs that don’t offer it, she said, so they end up turning to emergency rooms for care.
For the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., more than half of them women, “Their voices are not strong enough on their own,” Fluke said. “They need the rest of us” — Americans, or as Fluke called them, the “U.S.-born descendants of immigrants.”
“I fervently hope we don’t miss our chance to make our voices heard,” she said, “to make women’s history for the next women’s history month.”