Is immigration reform sexist?

Immigrants stand for the national anthem before becoming American citizens at a naturalization ceremony held at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), office on May 17, 2013 in New York City.

The high-profile Senate bill to overhaul immigration policy would change the way green cards are awarded in this country.  Some of the key elements would emphasize an immigrant's work experience instead of family ties. People would get points for things like advanced degrees and technical skills.

Hawaiian Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono says that would make it tougher for women to get green cards. She says in many countries women don’t have the chance to go to college.

"We do not want to see this immigration bill, basically  set in concrete the unequal opportunities for women in these other countries," Sen. Hirono says.

So Hirono, and 12 other female senators, co-sponsored an amendment that would set up a new skill category. Giving 30,000 green cards to people in fields dominated by women. Like home health care and early education.

But here’s a tricky question: Are we reinforcing stereotypes of women and "women's work"? 

"I’m not sure that it perpetuates a stereotype," says Joanna Dreby. She studies immigration and teaches sociology at the State University of New York at Albany. "But it responds to the reality of women’s working conditions. Fair or not."

"It’s not reinforcing those stereotypes but it’s acknowledging that these jobs exist and that we need to give people credit for that work," says Mary Giovagnoli, with the Immigration Policy Center, a Washington think tank focusing on immigration.

She agrees that the amendment acknowledges reality. But she says it also gives a little more respect to occupations dominated by women.

Giovagnoli says, especially since right now, most women come to the U.S. because of family ties, not their jobs.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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