Immigration reform dilemma: Cut family visas to woo computer engineers?
Congress is closing in on immigration reforms that favor more immigrants with math and science backgrounds, but lawmakers are divided over whether to favor job skills over family ties.
If the House and Senate reach a compromise immigration reform accord, one thing is nearly certain: The proportion of immigrants who are given legal status in the United States because of family connections will be lower, while those allowed in for employment reasons will be higher.Skip to next paragraph
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Lawmakers of both parties have made it clear that they want to make it easier for graduates of advanced science, technology, engineering, and math programs to stay in the US and for a range of foreign workers – from farm workers to computer scientists – to come here. Moreover, a new guest-worker program with a potential pathway to citizenship will add hundreds of thousands of possible US citizens during the next decade.
But what the parties still have to resolve is whether those work-based visas should come at the expense of some family-based immigration slots.
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The question is perhaps simpler for Democrats, who are generally more open to expanding the number of legal immigrants allowed into the country beyond its current level of 1 million. Republicans, meanwhile, are caught between their desire to boost employment-based visas for their backers in corporate America and their family-values platform. While some Republicans have indicated a willingness to let immigration levels tick up slightly, others within the party are advocating holding the line or even decreasing the number of immigrants admitted.
How lawmakers ultimately strike this balance will be a central theme in ongoing immigration reform negotiations.
"We want more immigrants, and there should be two bases on which those immigrants come. One is family, which I believe is the cornerstone of any good immigration system, and the second one is what are the needs of the economy," says Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) of Illinois, a leading House negotiator on immigration reform, at a Monitor Breakfast on Tuesday. "And we’re going to have to figure that out."
Democrats say family strength and US competitiveness can be addressed together.
“As we consider comprehensive reform, we must not pit visas for family-based immigrants against those sponsored by employers,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing on family reunification Tuesday.
For their part, many Republicans suggest there isn’t a hard cap on legal migration. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia has said there is no “magic number,” and Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky called for greater legal immigration in a speech before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
But comments by Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California show that some Republicans are wary about allowing immigration levels to increase significantly. Since the US authorizes more new permanent residents “than the entire rest of the world combined, we could say that we’re already in the nature of ‘a lot,’ ” he told the Monitor shortly after the November elections.
One area where there is bipartisan agreement is on the issue of spouses and children. Lawmakers in both parties are eager to reunite these family members as quickly as possible.
“The family is the essential unit of society, and keeping nuclear families together should be an important goal of our immigration laws,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) of South Carolina, the chairman of the House immigration subcommittee, before a recent hearing on family reunification. “But right now, our system forces many legal permanent residents to wait years to be reunited with their spouses and children. These waits can be painfully long, and we should consider how our laws can better limit nuclear family separations.”