House to vote on revised STEM jobs bill

The dust hadn’t even settled from the debacle of 2012 before we heard that the GOP would be warming up to the idea of immigration reform in an effort to make some inroads with Hispanic voters. Apparently we won’t have to wait for the next Congress to be seated before we see some steps in that direction. Word has come out this weekend that House Republicans will introduce a revised version of the previously defeated STEM Jobs Act, which seeks to expand the pool of green cards available for families of well educated immigrant workers.

Republican leaders made it clear after the election that the party was ready to get serious about overhauling the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system, a top priority for Hispanic communities. Taking up what is called the STEM Jobs Act during the lame-duck session could be seen as a first step in that direction…

Republicans are changing the formula this time by adding a provision long sought by some immigration advocates — expanding a program that allows the spouses and minor children of people with permanent residence, or green card, to wait in the United States for their own green cards to be granted.

There are some 80,000 of these family-based green cards allocated every year, but there are currently about 322,000 husbands, wives and children waiting in this category and on average people must wait more than two years to be reunited with their families. In that past that wait could be as long as six years.

The proposal involves issuing 55,000 green cards to family members of immigrants with doctoral and masters degrees in these high tech fields, and takes the additional step of allowing them to come to the country one year after they apply for a green card of their own. (The family members still wouldn’t be able to work until their own green cards are approved and received, though.) But still, since this is something both sides seem to want, we’ll finally see some bipartisan accomplishments instead of a do nothing Congress, right?

Not so fast.

But the legislation would still eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery Program which gives out a similar 55,000 green cards a year to those from countries, including many in Africa, with traditionally low rates of immigration to the U.S. That prompted the House’s Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus to all come out against it in September.

The three caucuses said Republicans were trying to increase legal immigration for people they want by ending immigration for people they don’t want.

This was the same sticking point which sunk the bill last time, at least in part. And it seems like a rather awkward point to make a stand on now. We’re talking about 55,000 green cards which are already being given out anyway, and trying to shut down the program simply gives the Democrats cover to oppose an immigration reform bill which they primarily don’t like because the GOP came up with it. Further, it seems to send precisely the opposite message of the corrective movement the GOP is supposedly trying to execute.

The bill, even without the Diversity VISA Lottery attachment, expands immigration, demonstrates understanding of the need for immigrants to have their families with them, and still manages to focus the effort on the highly educated, skilled workers who can help boost economic growth and jobs. Why stick with a “balancing” measure which does nothing but feed ammunition to the opponent? I understand why we want bills spending X amount of money to be offset by X amount of savings. But this deals with the number of immigrants entering the country. I don’t think the formula holds here.