Can women give immigration reform the boost it needs?

November 20, 2013

(We Belong Together)

Burned by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio)’s dismissal of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill, Democrats have hailed his recent remarks as the nail in the immigration reform coffin. Meanwhile, Republicans have said that Democrats are dramatizing to save face over President Obama’s botched HealthCare.gov debut. Though the Senate bill lacks a clear future, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) have joined a national campaign to push it forward.

“We are facing the stalling of immigration reform in the House but our continued advocacy and external pressure can be brought in a sustainable way,” said Hirono on Tuesday.

Hirono and Roybal-Allard spoke at a news conference held Tuesday by We Belong Together, an advocacy group for women-focused immigration reform.

Hirono, a supporter of the Senate’s bill, raised concerns in June over the bill’s inadvertent exclusion of women from developing countries.

“There were no women in the gang of eight,” said Hirono, the only immigrant senator. “One of the outcomes of all the guys was that this new system really disadvantaged women. They put so much emphasis on education experience and high-skilled work experience that women in these countries don’t have.”


(We Belong Together)

“As long as discrimination exists against any group of women, all women will ultimately be vulnerable to that abuse,” said Roybal-Allard, chair of the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform.

The bill raised the cap for H-1B visas for high skilled workers in the end but also created a “W-visa” allowing up to 200,000 low-skilled workers entry annually. Additionally, the bill would eliminate the familial sponsorship limits of legal permanent residents.

Tuesday’s event focused on the importance of making immigration reform a women’s issue but perhaps even more pressing is how to make immigration reform John Boehner’s issue. Event headliner Gloria Steinem, the feminist activist, suggested everything from politicized e-mail signatures to picketing at politicians’ houses.

But with Democrats lamenting the delay of a House vote, the window of opportunity appears to be closing. As seen with the gun control push, one of Obama’s other second-term goals, public support peaks, falls and can ultimately squash once-viable bills.

“Women are very strategic,” insisted Hirono. “Rallies are great to bring focus, but behind those rallies will be intensive voter registration and education.”

“People would love the debate to be that immigration reform is dead,” said Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of We Belong Together. “There are countless bills like the Sensenbrenner Bill and the PATRIOT Act that were passed in very few days. This can still happen.”

Given the opportunity, would they succeed?

“We are confident that if we get a vote in the House it will pass,” Roybal-Allard said.

Ruth Tam is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @ruthetam.
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