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Supporters of Immigration Bill Offer Amendment Focused on Women

Saying the immigration overhaul bill now before the Senate would discriminate against future immigrants who are women, 13 female senators have introduced an amendment that would make it easier for foreign women to come to the United States under a new merit system in the legislation.

The amendment is part of a new effort by supporters of the bill to attract votes by framing immigration as a women’s issue. Its lead sponsors are two Democrats, Senator Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, and sponsors also include a Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

On Tuesday, dozens of women from local and national organizations waged a lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill. Pramila Jayapal, a leader of a coalition that organized the women’s campaign, said some of them visited senators who are leading the effort to pass the bill — including Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont — wearing colored fedoras that they tipped to show their support. Other women turned up with feather dusters in the offices of a dozen senators who earlier this month voted against allowing the Senate to debate the bill, to encourage those lawmakers to “clean up their act,” Ms. Jayapal said.

National groups that signed an open letter to women in the Senate urging them to vote for the overhaul include the National Organization for Women, the Y.W.C.A. of the U.S.A. and the National Council of Jewish Women. Women’s organizations were generally not engaged in 2006 and 2007, when comprehensive immigration bills were considered by Congress but failed to pass.

Polling by strategists for the coalition, Ms. Jayapal said, showed that an immigration overhaul could pick up significant new support from voters in Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, Maine and North Carolina, among other states, if women’s organizations became involved. Supporters of the bill are hoping to win the votes of Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, and Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, a Democrat.

The amendment the senators introduced late Wednesday would make a major change to the bill now on the Senate floor. It would create a separate tier for professions typically held by women, under a new merit-based point system for future immigration that would place more emphasis on job qualifications and less on family ties, which are the priority in the current system.

The senators said women in foreign countries often do not have the same educational and career opportunities as men. “We should not cement those inequalities into our immigration laws,” Ms. Hirono said.

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