House Passes STEM Bill; ‘Achieve Act’ Introduced in Senate, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Reacts; Obama, Dems Advocate Comprehensive Immigration Reform
The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 6429, the “STEM Jobs Act of 2012,” by a 245-139 vote on November 30, 2012. The bill would allocate 55,000 immigrant visas for certain foreign graduates of advanced degree programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It would exclude students with degrees in biological and biomedical fields. Among other things, it also would eliminate the diversity visa (DV) program so that there would be no overall increase in the level of immigration.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), said, “We should staple a green card to [foreign STEM graduates’] diplomas.” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cal.), who also voted in favor of the bill, said,”We need to break up the elephant into bite-size pieces. I want to break this up into passable bill by passable bill.” A statement on the STEM Jobs Act from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is available (PDF).
H.R. 6429 is considered unlikely to pass in the Senate. Democrats said they support STEM visas but did not think the DV program should be eliminated and believe that STEM legislation should be part of a larger immigration reform package. Similarly, the Obama administration said in a statement (PDF) that it “strongly supports” legislation to attract and retain foreign students who graduate with advanced STEM degrees, to establish a start-up visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs “to start businesses and create jobs,” and to “reform the employment-based immigration system to better meet the needs of the U.S. economy.” However, the administration said it does not support “narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.” The statement advocated an approach that would “provide for attracting and retaining highly skilled immigrants and uniting Americans with their family members more quickly, as well as other important priorities such as establishing a pathway for undocumented individuals to earn their citizenship, holding employers accountable for breaking the law, and continuing efforts to strengthen the Nation’s robust enforcement system.”
Also, on November 27, 2012, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) introduced the “Achieve Act,” S. 3639, which would allow certain undocumented youth to attain a visa. They would have to apply for employment authorization after they have completed higher education or served in the military. “We have to get this ball rolling … and this particular part of immigration reform seemed a logical place to begin,” Sen. Kyl said. The bill is more restrictive than the previously proposed DREAM Act and would limit eligibility to those who entered the United States under the age of 14, among other things. Sen. Hutchison also noted that the bill “doesn’t allow them to cut in line [for U.S. citizenship] in front of people who have come and abided by the rules of our laws today. It doesn’t keep them from applying under the rules today, but it doesn’t give them a special preference.” The Achieve Act is also considered unlikely to pass in the Senate.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus rejected the Achieve Act, outlining nine principles (PDF) that they said should be part of any effort toward comprehensive immigration reform: (1) requiring the estimated 11 million undocumented persons in the United States to register with the government, among other things, and “earn a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship”; (2) reducing family backlogs to keep spouses, parents, and children together, including same-sex couples; (3) attracting “investors, innovators, and skilled professionals,” including those in STEM fields; (4) building on the DACA program and incorporating “DREAMers”; (5) including a “balanced, workable solution for the agriculture industry” that ensures that agricultural workers have a route to citizenship and employers have the workers they need; (6) providing legal avenues for foreign workers to fill gaps in the workforce, including labor rights, protection from discrimination, and a “reasonable path to permanency”; (7) ensuring enforcement that both protects the borders and fosters commerce; (8) establishing a “workable” employment verification system; and (9) ensuring that all workers “pay their fair share of taxes, fully integrate into our way of life and bear the same responsibilities as all Americans” and reaffirming “our shared belief that the Citizenship Clause of the Constitution is a fundamental freedom that must be preserved.”