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Immigration Initiative, STEM Jobs Act to be taken up by House of Representatives

Immigration Initiative, STEM Jobs Act to be taken up by House of Representatives

By Tony Best

The New York Carib News
11/28/2012 5:13 PM

Caribbean immigrants already in the U.S. may soon get a signal from an unlikely group of lawmakers in Congress that their dream of coming early to the U.S. can become a reality sooner than they had expected.

After receiving a drubbing from voters in the November 6 presidential and congressional elections, Republicans in the House of Representatives who control the chamber are changing their minds on a bill that would, if enacted into law, give the spouses and minor children of green card holders permission to remain in the U.S. while waiting to get their own permanent residency documents. Thousands of West Indians would be affected by the measure.

Essentially, the provisions of the bill would give family members the green light to enter the U.S. a year after they had applied for a green card while in, say, Jamaica, Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Latin America and other regions so they join their close relatives. It would benefit the families of immigrants with green cards who marry after receiving their residency permits. But there would be a catch: the spouses and minor children would be unable to work after they have landed in the country and while their green card applications are still pending.

The change of heart involves the STEM Jobs Act –science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and it is being seen as a maneuver to soften the image of Republicans who up until November 6 were diametrically opposed to any concession to immigrants, especially those from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Latin America. Now, they want to attract support from Hispanics and English, French and Dutch-speaking foreign born residents who live across the land.  The Republicans had fought hard to increase the visas for high-tech graduates from Europe and certain parts of Asia so they can work for U.S. high-tech companies. But they are pushing for the elimination of a visa program that enables less highly trained immigrants, mainly from the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America to come to the U.S.

As things stand, more than 330,000 people from around the world are waiting in line for 80,000 visas which are given out every year to the spouses and children wishing to re-unite their families in the U.S. What that means is that close relatives from say Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Antigua, Costa Rica, Malta, Italy, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Vincent, Nigeria, Solomon Islands or Dominica who usually have to wait at least two years or in some cases as long as five years for permission to come to the U.S. Under the proposed change, the waiting time would be cut to 12 months. At the same time, though, the measure before the House would end the Diversity Visa Lottery scheme which gives 55,000 visas annually to people from countries with low immigration rates, such as Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, France, Bulgaria, Panama, Ghana, and most places in Africa. Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are barred from participating in the visa lottery program because of their relatively large number of nationals who leave home to come to the U.S.

The fate of the Republican led immigration shift rests with the Democrats on Capitol Hill who in September killed the STEM bill on the grounds that the GOP wanted to give American high-tech companies ready access to the global pool of engineers, scientists and other highly trained professionals needed by U.S. companies while keeping out lower skilled workers from the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The Congressional Black Caucus and the Asian Pacific-American and Hispanic caucuses in the House all voted against the measure because they saw it as a blatant discriminatory move by the Republicans to bring in foreign university graduates but close the door to the foreign born immigrants from poorer states. The STEM bill is aimed at keeping graduate students working towards masters and doctoral degrees in U.S. colleges and universities so they can work for U.S. firms instead of their foreign competitors.

But even if the House puts its stamp of approval on the measure during the lame-duck session of Congress that ends in December, it must be approved by the Democratic controlled Senate where it is likely to die a natural death.

The Senate may not act on it, because Democrats are expected to hold out for comprehensive immigration reform that would address a wider range of problem, including a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants now in the country. In other words, the Democrats are opposed to any piece-meal measure.

As Crystal Williams, a senior official of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, explained it, a bill that provided limited relief wouldn’t get much support in the Senate. What the Republicans are really trying to do, she contends, is to tell immigrants and others “we are here (in Congress) and we are ready to talk about immigration reform.”

People, she went on, “are now starting to think about broader reform.”

Bruce Morrison, a former Democratic Congressman from Connecticut said that the Republican initiative wasn’t as generous as it at first appeared. That’s because it wouldn’t increase the number of green cards given to people and it wouldn’t speed up the granting of early permanent residency. The only benefit would be to allow them to enter the country in a shorter period of time.

They would simply be able to “live legally in the United States with their spouses or parents,” Morrison pointed out.

U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and Congressman-elect Hakeem Jeffries who is succeeding Ed Towns of Brooklyn in the House next January are both expected to back comprehensive immigration reform whenever it comes before the chamber in the new session. So, too will U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Charles Rangel.