A Feminist Call For Immigration Reform, As Momentum Stalls in Congress

Organizers say immigration reform is a women's issue at heart

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AP / Carolyn Kaster

People shout out against the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act in the hall outside the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013.

The women’s rights community is not giving up on immigration reform.

Though the bill that hurtled the Senate is likely dead in the water in the House, women’s groups took to the National Press Club on Tuesday to focus attention on the impact immigrant laws have on women—using the star power of feminist activist and author Gloria Steinem to propel them forward.

“A vote against immigration reform, or inaction on this issue,” said Pramila Jayapal, the co-chair of the women’s immigration group We Belong Together, “is really a vote against women, children, and families.”

Women make up about 51% of the immigrant population, according to the Census.“The truth of the matter is,” Steinem said Tuesday, “there is an unrealistic portrayal of who immigrants really are.”

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Congressman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) were also among Tuesday’s speakers. Hirono said a number of women’s issues aren’t taken into account in reform legislation. Though there are provisions geared directly at easing citizenship for those employed in the science, technology and agriculture fields, there are no protections for domestic workers, the majority of whom are women.

“Our new immigration system is inadvertently disadvantaging women,” said Sen. Hirono, who voted in favor of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Act in June. Royal-Allard, on the other hand, just wants an opportunity to vote on the bill. “Let’s at least get a vote,” she said. “If we get a change to vote in the House, it will pass.”

Last week, however, Speaker of the House John Boehner told reporters that he doesn’t intend to go to conference on the Senate’s immigration reform bill and he will not allow any House-passed legislation to blend with the Senate version. President Obama said on Tuesday that he is optimistic that reform will pass, adding that he is open to dealing with immigration reform in bites at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council conference. “If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces,” President Obama said.  “As long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like as long as it’s actually delivering on those core values that we talk about.” At the same event, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said there is not enough time to take up immigration reform during this session.

Gloria Steinem told TIME, however, that even without a vote the movement to bring women to the forefront of conversations surrounding immigration reform will continue. If a vote doesn’t happen, Steinem said, “It means danger. It means insecurity. And it means we have to take care of each other by other means.”