Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why Are There No Women in the Gang of Eight?

When I was reading Joan Walsh's article on Marco Rubio's split personality on immigration in Salon, one passage really struck me:
Before the flap over Rubio’s aide’s comment, what I thought was most interesting about Lizza’s piece was the length Rubio’s fellow gang members have gone to placate him. On the record, Sen. Chuck Schumer told Lizza: “[Rubio’s] the real deal. He is smart, he is substantive. He knows when to compromise and when to hold. And he’s personable.’” Wow, Chuck, you left out handsome! But wait: According to Lizza, an aide to New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez said, “If the Gang were a group of high-school students, Rubio would be the cool jock and the captain of the football team, with whom everyone wanted to hang out.”

Um, OK, I guess that underscores that the Gang of Eight is all male.
Although she noted this in somewhat of an aside, I think it's noteworthy and frequently overlooked that the Gang of Eight is all male.  We now have a record 20 women serving in the Senate.  If we were going for Senate proportionality (rather than population proportionality), then there would be 1.6 women in the Gang of 8.  So, we might expect one or two female senators to be a part of the group working on what the President often frames as perhaps the biggest priority for his second term agenda. Such senators could bring a different perspective as well as stronger ties to different stakeholders like women's advocacy groups (or even children's advocacy groups) and could be, through experience, more attuned to the needs of working immigrant women and mothers. Do we see one, maybe two women in the Gang?  Nope.  Nadie.

California, the state with the largest number of unauthorized immigrants and the second highest percentage of unauthorized immigrants (by population), has two female senators: Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein.  Back in the 2007 immigration debates, Boxer was an outspoken opponent of the "guest worker" provision that would have enabled employers to exploit low-wage workers.  She has been a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, co-sponsoring the AgJOBS Act of 2009 and calling on Obama back in 2010 to push for a comprehensive immigration bill that year.  She would have been a valuable addition to any "gang" working on immigration reform.

The Gang of 8 consists of the two Cuban-American Senators: Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL)---who both hail from states with large foreign-born populations.  We have Democrat Michael Bennet from Colorado, the state with the 7th largest Hispanic population (by %).  Rounding out the Democratic side, we have Obama's right-hand man and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate (after Reid and Durbin) who hails from a state with large Hispanic and foreign-born populations.  Rounding out the Republican side, we have Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, a state with a relatively small but very rapidly growing Hispanic population.  We have John McCain (R-AZ), the co-architect (along with Ted Kennedy) of the 2007 attempt at immigration reform.  Arizona, a border state, has the fourth largest Hispanic population.  We then have the junior senator from Arizona, too, freshman Jeff Flake.  It seems strange to me that both of Arizona's senators are part of the gang when California, which has larger Hispanic and foreign-born populations (by total and by percentage, has no one in the gang.
If the Gang of 8 was willing to invite freshman into its clique, then why not Mazie Hirono instead of Jeff Flake?  Hirono, for one, is an immigrant herself.  She was born in Fukushima, Japan, and came to Hawaii with her mother and older brother at age eight in 1955.  Although politicians and pundits discuss CIR only through the lens of the Hispanic population, Asians  recently surpassed Hispanics as the largest wave of new immigrants to the United States. An Asian-born female senator who dealt with immigration as a young child would bring a valuable perspective to the discussion and would also likely have the strongest ties to Asian-American stakeholder groups. We saw her sense of family and compassion at work when she offered an amendment to the bill that would have expanded family visas so that people in extreme hardship could petition for green cards for their adult children or siblings.  However, Schumer and Durbin shot it down just as they did with Pat Leahy's amendment to extend protections to gay and lesbian couples.

As comprehensive immigration reform will have far-reaching effects on women and families, one would think that the "gang" in charge of drafting the bill could have found at least one woman.

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