Students in Hoyas for Immigrant Rights will join 100 migrant women on the last few miles of their 100 Women, 100 Mile Pilgrimage for Migrant Justice from Pennsylvania to D.C. to greet Pope Francis at his meeting with Congress.
More than 40 students will meet the women and their supporters outside Georgetown and walk to McPherson Square Sept. 22 to try and meet the pope.
The 100 Women, 100 Mile pilgrimage, organized by a nonprofit called We Belong Together, began Sept. 15 at a detention center in York County, Pennsylvania. One hundred migrant women and their supporters set off on a pilgrimage through Pa. and Maryland toward D.C. to highlight Pope Francis’ statements on immigration and vie for a conversation with the pope himself.
Pope Francis has previously described conditions of migrants travelling from Mexico into the United States as “inhumane.” He has also encouraged European leaders to accept more Syrian refugees.
HFIR co-chair Alexis Larios (COL ’18) said immigration is an urgent issue with disproportionately negative impacts on women and children.
“One thing that we really feel is important is to look at how women immigrants are treated, because compared to men they have it significantly harder, especially in detention centers and the immigration process,” Larios said. “Things that can especially affect women and children more harshly, such as sexual assault, men may not necessarily be subject to as much. Right now, we have this rhetoric going around that’s not really looking at immigration from that standpoint.”
Maria Lira, a domestic worker living in Houston, Texas, is one of the women taking part in the larger pilgrimage. Lira spoke of the often poor working conditions she and other immigrants have faced after arriving to the United States.
“I can tell you a million stories about how I feel every day when I’m listening to a lot of other immigrants who are working very hard,” Lira said. “These people are vulnerable, and people can take advantage of them very easily. … We just want to share our story with the pope. He’s a strong and powerful leader, and we want him to listen to us and help us get the respect and dignity that we need, because everybody deserves the same treatment.”
From Oct. 1, 2014 to July 31, 2015 more than 30,000 unaccompanied children and 29,000 families, many of whom were fleeing violence, were apprehended at the southwestern border. There are now thought to be 12 million undocumented residents in the United States, according to Reuters.
Current immigration practices include the detainment of asylum-seeking women and children, the separation of mothers from their families and the continuous threat of deportation for the undocumented, according to the 100 Women, 100 Mile pilgrimage website.
HFIR will be joining pilgrimage host We Belong Together, a campaign that brings together the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum with the aim of uniting women to mobilize for improved immigration policies. Other partner organizations participating in the pilgrimage include Not1More, Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, People Improving Communities Through Organizing and Interfaith Worker Justice.
Rosa Sanluis, another participant, said she wants immigrant communities to be viewed with dignity and respect.
“My story is not that different from the ones from other immigrants,” Sanluis said. “Domestic workers are not treated well. For example an employer may threaten that if you raise your voice or break something, they will call immigration to take you back to your country. You have to deal with this because you don’t have anywhere else to go. … We want to take this message to Pope Francis, so that he can be able to move the hearts of congressmen.”
Larios added that the all-women pilgrimage aims to bring attention to gender-specific immigrant struggles.
“When you think of a typical immigrant, you think of a man coming across, but you have to realize that women and children are doing the exact same thing,” Larios said. “We’ve seen this with the Syrian crisis, and right now with children coming over it’s important to see that that’s happening here in the United States as well.”
Larios acknowledged HFIR’s support of the pilgrimage as a way of bringing attention to the issue in the hopes of facilitating change.
“This is really about bringing light to human suffering and human dignity,” Larios said. “That’s what the women really want to get across—that we look at this issue from the stories of actual people who are going through a lot.”
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.