Immigration reform as a women’s issue

 

 


Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), speaks at We Belong Together event last fall. (Courtesy of We Belong Together)

While House Republicans have been adamant that immigration reform is all but dead this year, a coalition of women’s groups is hoping to revive the issue, wrapping it into the “war on women” offensive.

Arguing that women and children bear the brunt of the burden from a broken system, and that women will be decisive in the 2014 and 2016 elections, organizers said that Republicans should reconsider their approach to immigration reform.

“Unless we actually have action from House leadership, from Speaker Boehner, to move a bill forward so that the majority of his members in his House can actually vote to move this bill forward, we will continue to push and push and make sure that women voters in November understand who has blocked immigration reform,” Pramila Jayapal, chair of We Belong Together, which advocates for immigration reform, said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.

Jaypal said that the timeline for reform can’t be dictated by a small group of people, and that the lack of GOP action will have a political cost for the party as it tries rebrand its image and appeal to a more diverse pool of voters.

“If the Republican leadership really looks at the cost of not moving immigration reform forward…the cost for their leadership in Congress, they will start to understand that the lack of action is continuing to play into a frame that already exists,” she said.

Congresswomen Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) have joined the push.

“We know that when women come together and stand up for legislation, something can get done, even in this dysfunctional Congress,” DelBene said, citing the work around the Violence Against Women’s Act.

Framing immigration reform as a political issue for Republicans has been a key strategy for Republicans who support reform as well as Democrats, yet it isn’t an argument that has met with any success. And President Obama in his State of the Union address in January framed the issue in economic terms, as have other Democrats.

Nearly six in 10 Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people who are in the country illegally, according to a Washington Post poll.

While there is broad support for immigration reform from unions, big business and evangelicals, a coalition of conservative House members have effectively derailed any hopes that anything would move this year.

The new push is backed by over 50 organizations, including the National Organization for Women, YWCA and the SEIU, a service workers union with 2.1 million members.   Among the plans are a month-long fast that begins March 8, engaging women on the issue and mobilizing women’s voters.

Jayapal said that the group has data that it will release later about congressional districts where women’s votes could be crucial and where immigration reform could possibly be used as a way to get women to the polls.  Democratic House and Senate leaders are betting that unmarried women hold the key to their electoral success and are pushing for a higher minimum wage and equal pay, issues that play well with women voters. It’s unclear whether immigration reform has the same resonance with women.

“We cannot give up,” said Ana García-Ashley, executive director of the Gamaliel Foundation, a national community-organizing network. “We cannot be defeated by the naysayers. We have to continue to have our voices heard.”

 

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