Immigration Buffets and Buffeting in Congress
In a spirit of convivial bipartisanship, the House on September 13 passed by a vote of 402-3 legislation the Senate had approved in August, S.3245 ("A bill to extend by 3 years the authorization of the EB-5 Regional Center Program, the E-Verify Program, the Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker Program, and the Conrad State 30 J-1 Visa Waiver Program"). Presumably, it will land on the President's signing desk before the September 30 sunset of the four programs.
Positioning has also begun in the House over competing Democratic and Republican versions of a STEM jobs act that would give green cards to highly-educated math, engineering, tech and science graduates of U.S. universities. The primary difference in approach is over whether to provide STEM green cards by eliminating the 55,000 Diversity Visa lottery (the GOP proposal). As explained by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), the Democrats want to vote on "a clean STEM increase . . . without doing damage to other parts of our legal immigration system." Given the GOP's House majority, expect the Republican version to be approved soon and sent to the Senate where it will face an uncertain fate.
Meanwhile, Congressional hearings, already convened or soon to be held, serve as mediagenic stages for Republicans to take swipes at the President and his Homeland Security Department. Rep. Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, held a Sept. 12 hearing with a pre-ordained conclusion obvious from its title, "The Obama Administration's Abuse of Power" -- which included DACA among its other "abuses." On September 20, Rep. Peter King, Republican of New York, will debut "An Assessment of the Department and a Roadmap for its Future," a drill-down of a July 25 hearing ("Understanding the Homeland Threat Landscape").
After next week, Congress will likely go dark until after the November election as each party campaigns for hegemony in the executive and legislative branches. A lame duck session will likely follow. Perhaps then winners and losers will at last put country before party on immigration and a host of other issues. Maybe legislators whose careers are ending through a loss at the ballot box or retirement -- with nothing to lose -- will grow spines. Perhaps the losing side will become more pliant as demographic changes cause them to wake up and smell a new brand of java. It's happened before with such major lame-duck legislation as the Immigration Act of 1990, which passed on November 29, 1990.
Almost anything is better than stalemate, as I've previously suggested:
If there is to be an immigration meal, it must be piecemeal. If immigration supporters cannot have a multi-course feast at a single sitdown dinner, then tapas eaten seriatim will more than satisfy the hungry reformers' appetites.
The challenge will be to avoid modestly beneficial compromises that add to complexity and include something bad for everyone, and instead forge good deals that foster our bedrock immigration values of family unity, economic prosperity, and refuge for the persecuted.
If Mitt Romney wins, perhaps the best we can hope for is a Nixon-to-China moment on immigration reform, with the scales tipped in favor of employment-based visas and heavier-than-Obama enforcement (if that's even possible). More immigration hope and change can be foreseen if President Obama carries the day, and the Dems maintain control of the Senate while making gains in the House. Perhaps anti-filibuster reforms early in the new Congressional term (as explained procedurally here and here) will be the secret door to comprehensive immigration reform.
Wonks, stakeholders and, of course, citizens: Stay tuned.