Thursday, December 6, 2012

Political Wrangling Over Immigration Reform Begins

In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, some Republicans began pressing to change the party's stance on immigration reform as a way to change the party's image with Latino voters.  Over 70% of Latinos voted for President Obama, and was seen by many as a key reason for the President's victory.

Comprehensive immigration reform will take time and negotiations.  Some Republicans eager to start changing the party's image have introduced smaller proposals in Congress now, during the lame duck session, in an effort to give the GOP some credibility.

One such proposal is the expansion of the number of permanent residency visas available for workers in science, technology, engineering and math, so-called STEM workers.  I have already discussed the arduous process of hiring foreign-born STEM workers and applying for their visas on this blog.

While Republicans may not be completely unified on comprehensive immigration reform, STEM worker visas is one area where the GOP does have a degree of unityOne Republican proposal on STEM worker visas was brought to a vote in September of this yearThe plan would have increased the number of visas available for STEM workers by 50,000, while eliminating the diversity visa programThe diversity visa program, also known as the visa lottery, makes 50,000 visas available to people born in areas of the world that have sent the fewest immigrants to the United States in the past five years.

The GOP bill was brought to the floor in September under the suspension calendar, and needed a two-thirds majority to pass in the House of Representatives.  While the proposal failed to gain the required support in September, the bill to expand the number of STEM visas came to the floor on the regular calendar, and passed the House on November 30, 2012.  The bill passed, and was introduced in the Senate.

In the Senate, Republican John Cornyn sought unanimous consent to bring the bill on STEM worker visas to a vote.  Democrat Chuck Schumer objected, noting that while Democrats favored expanding the number of visas available for STEM workers, that Democrats did not believe it had to be done by eliminating the visas available under other immigration programs.

The political wrangling over immigration reform has therefore begun.  There is a question over whether the Democrats will even permit immigration reform to pass.  If immigration reform were to pass, it would rob the Democrats of a political issue where they believe they have an advantage over Republicans. 

This first foray into the issue of immigration reform, therefore, does not bode well for the passage of comprehensive reform.  If political parties cannot agree on the specifics of this one issue, where there is general agreement for the need to expand the visas available for STEM workers, then finding common ground on a host of other immigration topics could prove elusive.

By: William J. Kovatch, Jr.
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