It’s official: America has escalated its war on poor women and their families.
The barbaric rending of families seeking asylum at the U.S. border; the criminal carelessness with which these children and their parents were dispersed but not tracked or informed of each others’ whereabouts; the categorical denial of asylum to victims of domestic or gang-related violence whose home countries are unable or unwilling to protect them; and the coerced deportation of hundreds of parents back to their countries of origin without their children, all bear witness to a staggeringly cruel moment in our nation’s history.
Let’s face it, thought: this dreadful chapter is but the latest in America’s contemptuous dehumanization of the least among us.
Played out against the soundtrack of inconsolable children and their sobbing parents, the ongoing border saga conjures equally horrific actions perpetrated by our forebears — the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the slicing apart of slave families to maximize profits from their a la carte sale, the kidnapping and “civilizing” of native American children, as part and parcel of the genocidal conquest and westward expansion.
This is, and has always been, a part of who we are. But more aggressively than any U.S. government in living memory, America’s current leaders in the White House and Congress have waged a shockingly fierce, multi-front assault on the poor, particularly, against poor women.
Consider that over a mere 18 months, in addition to our new southern border “policy” and the rhythmic stoking of hatred and fear of those who would seek refuge here, this administration has promised to slash billions, toughen work requirements, and introduce new ones for low-income Americans receiving Medicaid, food stamps, federal housing subsidies, and other anti-poverty programs. The administration and its Congressional sycophants have restricted health care for poor women here and abroad, limiting their access to pre- and postnatal visits, cancer screenings, and other lifesaving health services, and just recently, the U.S. delegation at a World Health Organization meeting refused to endorse the proven health benefits of breastfeeding, siding with infant-formula manufacturers over mothers and newborns and threatening another national delegation that disagreed.
Speciously justified by this administration’s racist and xenophobic screeds, the government has banned most visitors, asylum seekers, and family members of American citizens from an arbitrary list of mostly Muslim countries, consigning mostly women and children to remain in oppressive, destitute, and/or war-ravaged regions. It has also ended Temporary Protected Status for roughly 300,000 immigrants who are already here, having fled war or natural disaster, (1) triggering life-wrenching decisions among parents now slated for deportation about whether to take with them or leave behind their 273,000 children who are U.S. citizens (2). And it has proposed a budget that would deprive undocumented immigrants working in the United States, many of whom pay taxes or have American born-children, of the earned income and child tax credits.
Of course, this top-of-mind litany of government-sanctioned abuses perpetrated explicitly against poor women, girls, and families leaves aside the White House harboring of an alleged wife-beater, wife abuser and demonstrated misogynist, and a new communications chief who doubles as a [master enabler of sexual assault]. The violence against women practiced and tolerated by those who work in the Oval Office is the literal and philosophical backdrop against which this intensified siege on the most vulnerable has been staged.
The level of rank contempt for and abuse of women by America’s leaders is new. Until now, we could take pride in the progress in the fight for women’s rights, from the earliest 19th-century abolitionists through the 19th Amendment (1920), Equal Pay Act (1963), the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision (1973), the stalwart efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, to the dozens of energized women candidates running for elected office. Just as critically, for American women in poverty, have been the successes of the labor and civil rights movements in delivering legal protections, the New Deal, Social Security, Brown v. Board of Education, Medicaid, and Medicare. Countless efforts since have been made, to defend and expand each of these hardwon rights so that they reach ALL women and girls.
With each fresh assault on human rights and decency, though, this progress, and our stewardship of it, are put to the test. Now our aptly named White House aspires to revoke citizenship for all legal immigrants whose family member, having fled violence and crushing hardship, in her striving to achieve the American dream, has made legal and appropriate use of the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women. Infants and Children (WIC), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), food stamps, or health insurance.
The only possible silver lining of this government’s stunning callousness is that it has stripped many Americans of the lulling illusion of who we wanted to believe we were.
Under the scorching light trained on the cruel reality show at our southern border, and as the spectacle is pushed offstage, banished to the hidden corners of detention centers and shelters, Honduran slums and remote Guatemalan villages, where agonized parents and children yearn to be reunited, we must now ask ourselves: will we allow this war on poor women and families to continue to be waged in our names, here and around the world?
(1) In Sudan, Nicaragua, Salvador, Syria, Honduras, Haiti, and Nepal. 330,000 benefit from TPS in total, which was declared to be ending for Sudan (in September, 2017, despite 2.3m displaced); in Nicaragua (2,500, in November 2017); in Salvador (195,000, in January 2018); in Syria (in January 2018, decided that the 7,000 resettled here before August 2016 could stay, but that Syria would not be re-designated, meaning that those who have entered since are not protected); in Honduras (57,000, in May 2018); in Haiti (50,000, in November 2017); and in Nepal (9000, in April).
(2) Deporting all those currently protected under TPS would cost taxpayers an estimated $45b in lost GDP, $6.9b in lost Social Security and Medicare contributions over a decade. (Somalia and Yemen extended in July until 2020.)