Much happened on immigration reform in the Republican-controlled Congress this week — good, bad and ugly.
Here's a rundown, in reverse order:
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a committed immigration reform arsonist, released a restrictionist manifesto basically declaring a war on immigration on every front, as I blogged here. He attacked not just unskilled immigrants from Mexico as welfare queens who undercut American jobs and wages, he even went after skilled immigrants. He claimed that the notion that innovations and entrepreneurship by foreign techies is a major power booster for America's IT economy is a "Silicon Valley STEM Hoax" perpetrated by the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. He accused them of clamoring for more guest workers only so that they could lay off "existing workers in massive quantities" – an illegal practice that would get them in a whole host of trouble with the labor department if they engaged in it.
He encouraged his fellow restrictionist GOPers to either offer "isolated measures" or "amendments to any relevant business that comes before Congress" to take a slew of steps from mandatory E-verify to criminal penalties for visa overstayers" to closing asylum and refugee loopholes" with the aim of reducing the immigration population in the country — both legal and illegal.
Some of his suggestions are really draconian and one can only hope they get consumed by termites.
Sessions House cronies managed to prevail on the GOP to vote on a bill whose aim was to selectively fund the Department of Homeland Security's border enforcement functions — and defund Obama's anti-deportation measures.
Here's the story of their complicated manuvering:
Obama's 2012 DACA (Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals) executive order suspended deportation proceedings against aliens brought here as kids. And his 2014 action extended DACA to other undocumented foreigners with American families and deep ties to the community. Both of these have stuck in the craw of Sessions & Co.
They accused him of Caesarism but could do nothing because the 1986 Immigration and Nationality Act unequivocally hands the president wide prosecutorial discretion to set immigration enforcement priorities as he sees fit, as I noted here. They flirted with the idea of simply slashing appropriations for the DHS but that would have been tantamount to cutting their nose to spite their face. That's because this would have given the president an excuse to scale-back drones and fences on the border, which they love — and done nothing to actually stop his executive actions – which, as per statute, are funded by user fee and not subject to Congressional appropriations.
This week, however, they passed, 236 to 191, an overarching bill to fund DHS till the end of the fiscal year, keeping all the border enforcement activity intact. But then they attached amendments to this bill to defund DACA etc. by changing the statute that paid for these programs through user fees. However, two dozen Republicans who voted for the overarching bill refused to go along with the amendments, hence they squeaked by with only 218 votes — just a few more than needed to pass.
It is highly unlikely that these amendments will get the 60 votes needed in the Senate to avoid a Democratic filibuster. And if by some miracle they make it through the Senate, President Obama will veto them. So it is hard to see what all this drama will accomplish — besides embroiling the GOP in a potential civil war between the friends and foes of immigration and cementing its reputation as a party of mean white dudes who can't handle Spanish and salsa. "It's hard for the Republicans to call themselves 'pro-family' when they repeatedly vote to rip families apart," lambasted Dan Pfeiffer, a senior Obama advisor, immediately after the vote. "This policy isn't just unwise, it's cruel, immoral and it is not who we are as Americans."
Who can argue with that?
Sens. Orin Hatch, Maro Rubio and Jeff Flake introduced something called the I-Squared bill that is effectively a poke in the eye of Sen. Sessions, at least when it comes to high-tech immigrants.
This bill, which has significant bipartisan consensus, is arguably the most positive thing to come out of Congress on immigration in nearly a quarter of a century. It increases the cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 and allows it to reach 195,000 in years of high demand. It removes the limits on immigrants with advanced degrees; allows the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work, so that they don't lose their peak working years stuck in their kitchens; and lets H-1B holders change jobs so that they are not enchained to a single employer.
But where it gets truly inspired is in reforming the Employment Based green card program. Thanks to national quotas on green cards, high-skilled workers from techie-rich countries like India and China end up waiting decades to receive their green cards while the techie-poor countries don't even come close to filling their quotas.
This bill will do two things to fix this lopsided situation: One, it'll allow unused green cards to be recaptured and handed to those waiting in line. Two, it'll exempt family members of green card applicants from counting toward the numerical quota. In other words, when a techie and her husband are granted a green card, it'll count as one, not two. This will effectively double the number of green cards handed out every year without any formal increase in the quotas.
No doubt this will give Sen. Sessions a coronary. But all of this is very much along the lines of what I suggested in my magazine piece.
So all I can say is, halleulujah!