With their hasty post-election pivot on immigration reform, Republicans are the ones who get to act all disappointed in Democrats for a seeming failure to show up on the issue. The much-snubbed Achieve Act was a Republican concoction. As was the STEM Jobs Act, which sailed through the House on a 245-139 vote today.
The STEM Jobs Act, authored by Republican Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, would offer permanent residency to immigrants with master’s and doctorate degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering and math. Encouraging highly educated professionals in science and technology to stay in the U.S. is a bipartisan priority; Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged the economic imperative of such a move. The STEM Jobs Act has the vocal support of tech companies like Intel and Microsoft, who’ve long advocated for more friendly policy to allow the highly educated to stay in the country.
During his 2012 State of the Union President Obama called for reform to explicitly accommodate this class of immigrants who, “we send … home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else,” immediately after they receive their education in the U.S. “That doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Yet this week the White House came out against the STEM Jobs Act, saying the bill fails to meet the president’s “long-term objectives” on comprehensive immigration reform. For Democrats, the sticking point in the STEM Jobs Act is that the program would offset the 55,000 visas offered to STEM graduates by cutting the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a visa lottery system through which people from countries with traditionally low immigration can come to the U.S.
About half of the visas offered through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program go to those from African nations. A provision in the STEM Jobs Act would also make those in the country on a V visa, available to green card family members, ineligible to work or drive in the U.S. while they wait for immigration processing. Such a move would put women immigrants at particular risk by removing their ability to live independently, advocates have said.
“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,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez on the House floor today before the vote.
But by taking large, if disingenuous, moves to stay out front on immigration reform, Republicans are attempting to show the country that they learned their lesson from the 2012 elections; the party’s political relevance depends on reaching people of color, who are the largest and fastest growing parts of the U.S. electorate.
The STEM Jobs Act will now head to the Senate, where it’s unlikely the Democratic-controlled Senate will take it up.