Why 100 Women Just Marched 100 Miles

On Tuesday, 100 women from various backgrounds, faiths and nationalities completed their 100-mile walk to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Their pilgrimage, which began last Tuesday at an immigrant detention center in York, Pennsylvania, was organized by a coalition of groups to send a clear message: Our nation’s immigration policies must ensure that women and children are treated with dignity, respect and inclusion. The #100women100miles march is carefully timed to match the arrival of Pope Francis, who touched down in Washington, D.C. this week. The organizers of the march are amplifying Pope Francis’ message that migrants must be treated with respect and dignity.

Among the 100 women marchers are many who reflect the economic and immigration realities faced by thousands of women and families all around our country. Marie Hernandez, a representative of the Pilipino Workers Center, marched for the undocumented domestic workers and caregivers who have few legal protections to prevent wage theft, abuse, and exploitation and relatively no control over their working conditions. Gladys Arismendi joined the march in solidarity with young undocumented people like her own daughter, who cannot access educational and job opportunities despite being raised in America. Ana Cananguez, another one of the marchers, is wearing the same tennis shoes she wore when she crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

There is an immigration crisis in our nation. Under the Obama administration, nearly 2 million people have been deported. And the numbers of people being deported for non-criminal reasons are on the rise, meaning that the government is frequently targeting for deportation people who do not pose threats to American society.

In addition, many people are unable to reunite with their family members because of the severe backlog in the processing of family-based visa applications. A significant proportion of those in limbo are Asian. According to the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), one of the groups supporting the #100women100miles march, of the more than 4.4 million people waiting to receive their family-based visas, about 1.6 million are Asian, and many of them are women.

That is the case for Leng Leng Chancey, a staff member of NAPAWF, who endures the daily pain that family separation brings. “My sister and I have not lived on the same continent for the last 24 years, and she has missed out on birthdays, holidays and other special occasions,” she told me. “Walking with the 100 women on this march affirms for me that there are so many other families with pain and sadness, and that I am not alone. And it reinforces my commitment to bringing about an end to these separations.”

It’s also not lost on the 100 women that they are walking to Washington, D.C. during a time when anti-immigrant sentiment pervades political discourse. They have written an open letter to presidential candidates in which they note: “[M]any of you have engaged in rhetoric that is feeding a rising tide of hatred toward migrants in the United States and globally.”

For Sameera Hafiz, a South Asian Muslim woman and advocacy director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the march has been an important reminder that messages of respect and dignity will overcome xenophobia and racism. “It has meant a lot to me [to be on this march], because it drowned out the hateful rhetoric in our political discourse about immigrants, South Asians and Muslims,” Hafiz said. “As a South Asian Muslim woman and the proud daughter of immigrants, it has been a powerful experience to walk for dignity, human rights, equality and love. A real reminder that we all belong, we are all sisters and that each step we take toward justice we must take together.”

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Photo via RI4A on Twitter


Deepa Iyer is a senior fellow at the Center for Social Inclusion and the former executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). Her new book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, is forthcoming in November 2015.