19. ABUSING WOMAN IS ROUTINE AT THE BORDER

Hispanic women attempting to enter the United States illegally as undocumented workers routinely suffer abuse ranging from blackmail to battery and rape. And they can't report the crimes.

Over a three month period, Jane Juffer, of the Pacific News Service, interviewed 100 women who had entered the U.S. illegally. Thirty of the interviewees, nearly one third, reported suffering sexual assault at the hands of bandits, "coyotes" (men who extract payment to help illegal immigrants cross the border), and officials of both the United States and Mexico.

All 100 women told stories of some kind of abuse, most commonly the extortion of their savings.

The women also described jobs in which employers take advantage of their illegal status by paying them shockingly low wages for long shifts and threaten to report them to the authorities, should they complain.

When caught by the authorities, these women report being held in detention centers, sometimes for months before their detention hearings. Few of them can afford to pay bond and frequently they will offer their labor to someone who can pay the bond for them. The result is an indentured servitude, often in stifling conditions.

Because of the illegal status of the victims, these crimes go unreported. To report the abuse, the women face deportation. The need to find work in the U.S. to support their families, keeps them silent.

Women are the new immigrants from Central America. Until the mid1980s, the undocumented worker from south of the border was usually male. In the last five years, however, the proportion of women and children crossing the border illegally has risen dramatically, according to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials and refugee-assistance groups. In 1986, INS statistics indicated there had been a 40% increase in a two year period.

SOURCE:

THE PROGRESSIVE, April 1988, "Abuse at the Border: Women face a perilous crossing," by Jane Juffer, pp 14-19.