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In the first vote on an immigration bill since this month’s election, the Republican-controlled House rehashed an old policy and passed a version of a bill that already failed earlier this year, 245-139. Twenty-seven Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the legislation.
The STEM Jobs Act, sponsored by anti-immigrant Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), would increase visas for high-skilled workers in exchange for the elimination of the diversity lottery, which grants a number of permanent residency visas to countries with low rates of immigration to the US. The bill now heads to the Democrat-controlled Senate, which seems likely to ignore it; the Obama administration has already come out against it.
In his floor speech against the STEM Jobs Act today, immigration reform champion Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) expounded on earlier comments that the GOP-backed bill treated immigration like a “zero-sum game.” He said:
We need to stop scoring cheap political points and playing games with immigration and start working together.
Which is why it is so DISAPPOINTING the majority decided to undermine an area of bipartisan agreement on STEM visas by loading up the measure with provisions that are a slap in the face to the core values of the United States.
If you support this bill, you are saying that one group of immigrants is better than another and one type of educated, degree-holding person and their work is more important than another’s.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), another longtime champion of comprehensive immigration reform, also spoke against the STEM Jobs Act when she introduced a motion to recommit—to present a “clean STEM visa program” without “the unrelated measures” (the language eliminating the diversity lottery). The motion eventually failed.
During her floor time, the Congresswoman wondered what a provision to eliminate the diversity lottery was doing in a STEM jobs bill at all. As she said: “We support stem visas, they support stem visas, everybody on earth support stem visas. So why on earth aren’t we just voting on stem visas?”
Rep. Lofgren continued:
Eliminating the diversity visa has nothing to do with the STEM visa. It’s an unfortunate attack against minorities and it has no place in the STEM bill. It’s also remarkably tone deaf considering the recent election just 3 weeks ago. Minorities and immigrant communities sent a powerful message to our friends on the other side of the aisle, our friends say they heard that message, they acknowledge the need to reach out to those communities and take a different tack with respect to immigration.
Actions speak louder than words. If you want to reach out to minorities, perhaps you shouldn’t start with a bill that eliminates the diversity visa. And if you want to reach out to immigrants, perhaps you shouldn’t start with a bill that pits immigrant communities against each other. The choice between stem immigrants and diversity immigrants is one we are being forced to make. We do not need to make it.