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Lawrence Downes: Lamar Smith's STEM Jobs Act is a Bad Start on Immigration Reform

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Earlier this week, we told the GOP that the same cast of characters + the same mistakes on immigration = the same ending when it comes to the Latino vote.  That is, it was an encouraging sign when Republicans–after losing this year’s presidential contest by more than a 3-1 margin among Latino voters–began talking about how the Party could reform its ways and become more welcoming to minority voters.

But then Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) began touting the same old STEM Jobs Act bill (give or take a few tweaks) that already died in the House earlier this year, and pushed it toward a vote that’s supposed to happen this week.  The bill adds visas for skilled immigrants working in high tech fields–in exchange for the elimination of the diversity visa.  Republicans are trying to use the bill to show their new friendly attitude toward immigration legislation.  But their ideas are ones that have already been rejected before.

Yesterday, Lawrence Downes at the New York Times’ editorial page highlighted the folly of this move:

Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is offering a new version of an old immigration bill that’s due to be voted on this week. It’s being touted by supporters as a signal that the Republican Party understands the election message sent by voters – particular Latinos and Asians – in favor of immigration reform.

Don’t be fooled. The resurrected STEM Jobs Act is a tweaked version of a bad bill that died earlier this year in the House, and it’s bad for the same reasons as before. The bill increases visas for immigrants skilled in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — by eliminating another visa category entirely: the “diversity” visas set aside for people from countries with relatively low immigration rates to the United States.

Here’s the math: add 55,000 new visas for immigrants with advanced STEM degrees. Take away 55,000 diversity visas. A zero-sum game, in pro-immigrant disguise.

To sweeten the deal for Democrats, Mr. Smith has added another provision — to reunite some families of immigrants with green cards. Currently, relatives of legal permanent residents have to wait years overseas to get their own green cards before they can rejoin their families. The Smith bill would allow some of those who are waiting for green cards to spend that waiting period in the United States. But they would not be allowed to work. Families would suffer – not just from the financial burden, but also the risk of deportation, if they choose to risk working illegally to avoid economic hardship.

High-tech industries need workers. Families need to be reunited. But not on these meager terms. If Mr. Smith had been serious, not cynical, about an immigration measure, he could have negotiated with Democrats, come up with something better on family reunification and drafted a more defensible bill.

He didn’t, and this is what we’re left with: an old strategy, repackaged. If the Republicans are going to offer real immigration reform, they will have to do better than this.

We agree–the Republicans are going to have to do much, much better. Endorsing the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ immigration reform principles would be a good start.