Considering Immigration Legislation In 2013
This past Presidential election stressed the importance of the Latino vote in America. The Latino community comprises approximately 10 percent of the electorate, and it has been estimated that over 70 percent voted for President Obama. As the number of Latinos increases, this voting block is expected to significantly increase for the next Presidential election, and in the foreseeable future. It has been reported that President Obama won support in the Latino community with his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program where Work Permits are being issued to “DREAM Act” candidates (Illegal Children who grew up in America and went to American schools). Governor Romney’s self-deportation rhetoric was not received well by the Latino voters. As a result of shifting demographics and shrewd political maneuvering by the Democrats, the Republican Party now realizes that it must broaden its base beyond white voters and has embraced the call for immigration Reform.
Immigration Reform in 2012 could encompass many different current proposals. The DREAM Act is foremost among these many proposals. The DREAM Act (acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is an American legislative proposal first introduced in the Senate on August 1, 2001. There have been several versions, but basically the DREAM Act would provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented residents of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six-year period. Within the six-year period, they may qualify for permanent residency if they have “acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or have completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the United States” or have “served in the armed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, have received an honorable discharge.”
The success of the Deferred Action Program (368,000 applications accepted through December 14, 2012) almost ensures that the DREAM Act will be included in any type of Immigration Reform. But there are other bills being put forward. The Republicans have been championing the STEM Jobs Act. STEM was approved by the House of Representatives on November 30, 2012, by a vote of 245-139. STEM eliminates the diversity lottery green card program and reallocates up to 55,000 green cards a year to new green card programs for foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced STEM degrees. These green cards are first made available to foreign graduates with doctorates and any remaining green cards are then made available for foreign graduates with master’s degrees.
The bill creates a new green card category for aliens who have received STEM doctorates from U.S. universities. Foreign students will be eligible for STEM green cards if they:
- Have received a doctorate from an eligible U.S. university in computer science, engineering, mathematics, or the physical sciences (other than biological sciences);
- Agree to work for at least five years for the petitioning employer or in the U.S. in a STEM field;
- Have taken all their course work (including internet courses) while physically present in the United States; and
- Are petitioned for by an employer who has gone through labor certification to show that there are not sufficient American workers able, willing, qualified and available for the job.
The STEM bill also creates a new green card category for aliens who have received STEM master’s degrees from U.S. universities. If any green cards are not used by aliens with doctorates, they will then be made available to foreign graduates with master’s degrees. To be eligible, an alien must:
- Have received a two year master’s degree from an eligible U.S. university in computer science, engineering, mathematics, or the physical sciences (other than biological sciences);
- Have majored in college in a STEM field; and
- Agree to work for at least five years for the petitioning employer or in the U.S. in a STEM field.
Democrats oppose the STEM bill. They have announced that they disagree with the elimination of the diversity lottery part of the bill. The Diversity Visa Program, which is better known as the green card lottery, was designed to diversify the immigrant population in the U.S. by awarding permanent residency visas to applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States in the previous five years. Each year, 50,000 people are selected, and 80% of visas are allotted to nationals from Europe and Africa. STEM also excludes candidates with Doctorates or Masters in Biological Sciences, a field from which many applicants would apply.
We know that President Obama has stated several times that he expects to tackle immigration reform in 2013. In fact, he echoed this in his November 14 White House news conference:
. . . and my expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration. “
Immigration reform has a history of failure:
- The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made it illegal to hire or recruit illegal immigrants. That legislation has been impotent in successfully curbing the hiring of illegal workers by U.S. employers who flaunt the law at ever level.
- In 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005.
- 2006 the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006. Neither bill became law because their differences could not be reconciled in conference committee.
- The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 — its full name was Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) — was a bill discussed in the 110th United States Congress that would have provided legal status and a path to citizenship for the approximately 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. The bill was portrayed as a compromise between providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and increased border enforcement: it included funding for 300 miles (480 km) of vehicle barriers, 105 camera and radar towers, and 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, while simultaneously restructuring visa criteria around high-skilled workers. The bill was introduced in the United States Senate on May 9, 2007, but was never voted on, though a series of votes on amendments and cloture took place.
Has the 2012 Presidential election created a new atmosphere of cooperation in Congress that will lead to the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2013”? Only time will tell. But my guess is that “Comprehensive Immigration Reform (buzzword for Amnesty)” will never happen, but amid piecemeal proposals like the STEM legislation and perhaps the DREAM Act, will be bandied about in the same manner as was “Comprehensive Health Care Reform” was during the 16 years of the Clinton and Bush administrations. And why? . . . . because most Americans really don’t care that much about legalizing lawbreakers, and any proposed bill will be so peppered with untenable riders that it will never become law. The emotions of this issue will far exceed the politics or the humanitarian concerns . . . that’s why, and that’s my humble opinion.