Congressional Republicans have taken a number of steps in recent days easing their hard-line stance on reforming immigration laws, which alienated Hispanic voters in the elections.
The GOP House majority, backed by about two dozen Democrats, approved the STEM Jobs Act making it easier for highly educated immigrants to remain in the United States. The measure would create 55,000 visas annually for students who graduate from an American university with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, giving the bill its acronym title. Many of them are forced to leave the country now and take with them their education and creativity that could help enhance Americans competitiveness.
The bill would also make it easier for legal immigrants to bring spouses and children to the United States while they await their visas. Some family members now wait up to two years for one of the 80,000 family-based visas issued every year.
The bill, though, comes with a trade-off that Democrats find unacceptable. The GOPs special STEM visas eliminate a 22-year-old diversity visa lottery, which does not have education requirements. It is also directed more toward underrepresented countries and favors immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe. Democrats object to abandoning the diversity visas for a plan that pits one class of immigrants over another.
In the Senate, outgoing members Jon Kyl and Kay Bailey Hutchinson have introduced the ACHIEVE Act, which would allow some undocumented young immigrants to remain here legally. The GOP bill would allow youths who entered illegally under the age of 14 to gain legal status through a series of steps permitting them to obtain a permanent visa by obtaining a college education or through military service. The bill does not provide a path to citizenship.
It is the Republican version of the Democrats DREAM Act and the deferred deportation program established by President Obama through an executive order that provides some legal standing to young people, particularly those brought here by their parents as children. The three plans share a goal of clarifying the legal status of the young people many of whom have grown up in the United States and have no ties to their native lands so they can pursue an education, find work and eventually seek citizenship without fear of deportation.
Opponents are holding out for comprehensive immigration reform, but given the complexities of the problem that is in doubt. The Republican proposals hold little chance of passage in the waning days of a lame-duck Congress. However, the softening of the GOP stance is a step forward and offers a chance at a compromise on immigration reform for the next Congress to pursue.