Senate Passes Bipartisan Immigration Bill while House Continues to Stall

FinalImmigrationVoteWith Vice President Joe Biden presiding, this week the U.S. Senate passed S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” with a final vote of 68–32.  It included support from 14 Republicans.  Despite warnings from Vice President Biden regarding the Senate’s rules of decorum, audience members in the Senate gallery could be heard chanting “Yes we can!” upon the announcement of the results.  Indeed, there was much to celebrate:  S. 744 is a bipartisan bill that offers a pathway to citizenship for the majority of undocumented immigrants in the country, contains a “DREAM Act” provision without an age cap, would clear the green card backlog reuniting millions of families, and would invigorate our economy for decades to come.  Although not a perfect bill, the U.S. Senate has done its job and delivered a real solution to our broken immigration system.

In stark contrast, yesterday the House Judiciary Committee approved its fourth dead-end immigration bill in two weeks, the “Supplying Knowledge-based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas Act” (H.R. 2131), also known as the “SKILLS Act.”  On the surface, this bill would reform our country’s visa system in favor of attracting and retaining immigrants specializing in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.  There is a strong consensus among Republicans and Democrats that our visa system must be modernized in order to attract the most qualified, talented, and educated immigrants, many of whom receive their degrees from American universities.  Of the bills the Committee has taken up over the last two weeks, the “SKILLS Act” had the greatest potential of receiving bipartisan support.

 Watch the historic roll call vote.

Unfortunately, Republicans on the Committee once again refused to meet Democrats in the middle, and as a result the bill did not receive support from a single Democrat.  In the words of several Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, the major problem with the “SKILLS Act” is that it treats immigrant visas as a “zero-sum game.”  Increases in STEM, H-1B, and investor visas are directly offset by the elimination of the diversity visa program and a phase-out of sibling family preference visas.  If the “SKILLS Act” were to become law, it would greatly reduce family reunification and lead to greater underrepresentation of immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S., undermining two core American values.  Ranking Member John Conyers (D–MI) described these provisions of the bill as “poison pills.”

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A source of greater frustration for Democrats on the Judiciary Committee is that the “SKILLS Act,” like the other House bills before it, does not address our country’s most pressing immigration problem:  the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. who need to be brought out of the shadows and allowed to integrate into society.  A majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as do many Republicans in the Senate, yet Republicans in the House still refuse to take it up.

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