Monday, September 24, 2012

Why a rare bipartisan consensus on immigration totally fell apart

Because Democrats believe that immigrants should be selected by lottery!

President Obama supports the idea. So does Mitt Romney. In fact, it’s one of the few major points of consensus on immigration policy between Democrats and Republicans. So what doomed a proposal to give more green cards to immigrants who get science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduate degrees in the United States?

The short answer: House Republicans decided to attach the STEM visa expansion to the elimination of another long-standing visa program — a condition that House Democrats soundly rejected.

The longer story is that, before the August recess, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other legislators had been engaged in seemingly promising bipartisan talks to bring forward an immigration overhaul that included the STEM visa proposal. “We had barely gotten back a consensus on immigration — that some increase on immigration is good,” says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s Office at New York University, who describes the talks as the first genuinely bipartisan immigration effort that went beyond border security since 2006.

When Congress came back from recess, however, the bipartisan talks disintegrated because legislators couldn’t come up with a compromise on family reunification, a Schumer aide told the National Journal. So both Smith and Schumer came up with separate partisan bills.

Smith made the addition of STEM visas contingent upon the elimination of a diversity visa program that uses a green card lottery to let in immigrants from underrepresented countries, who only have to have a high-school education. The net number of green cards issues—55,000—would remain the same. Schumer, together with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), introduced a separate STEM bill that didn’t eliminate the diversity visa lottery.

That’s why House Democrats overwhelmingly rejected Smith’s bill on Thursday, which failed 257-158, with just 30 Democrats voting to support it. Their main argument was that one group of immigrants shouldn’t be disadvantaged for another group to be let in. “We strongly oppose a zero-sum game that trades one legal immigration program for another,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), according to the New York Times. Republicans accused Democrats of trying to sabotage the U.S. economy and spurning the tech companies that supported the bill to avoid handing the GOP a legislative victory.

Others, however, blame Republicans of playing politics by setting up the bill to fail so they could pin the blame on Democrats: The House GOP leadership put Smith’s bill on what’s known as the suspension calendar, which requires bills to have two-thirds instead of a simple majority to pass. Typically, the procedure is used to pass noncontroversial bills that are highly like to pass. But it can also be used “to create a difficult vote for whatever party isn’t in control,” says Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center.

But even if you put the politics aside, there’s still a major policy difference between Republican and Democratic proposals: Do we try to maintain the same overall numbers for legal immigration as we had in the 1990s, or should we look beyond quotas and encourage higher levels of legal immigration to stimulate the economy?

“If you’re unwilling to let go of the numbers from the 1990s, you’re always going to be looking to replace any new category,” says Giovagnoli. “The diversity visa has become a relatively easy target — it’s one of the few visas that’s available to someone with no basic relationship to the U.S.”

Republicans maintain that higher-skill immigration should take priority. But Democrats cast the elimination of the program as “an attack on the poorer segments of the immigration stream,” Giovagnoli explains, pointing out that nearly half of the diversity green cards go to immigrants from African countries who might not have another way to get to the United States.

Pro-immigration advocates don’t expect Congress to make another go at STEM visas until after the elections and were disheartened by the partisanship bickering on display this week. But some are heartened by the fact that legislators made even a preliminary effort to negotiate in good faith. “At least since 2008, the consensus in congress was ‘no, no, no’ on any immigration measure,” says Chisti. “Now we have seen an immigration thaw: There’s clearly a space for pro-immigration bills, and pro-migration bills.”


Immigration Minister Jason Kenney defends the transformation of Canada’s immigration system

Since the Conservatives won their majority in May 2011, Canada's Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has embarked upon a strategic and systematic transformation of Canada's immigration system.

He has announced moratoriums or suspensions of the immigrant investor program, federal entrepreneur program, federal skill worker program and immigration applications from parents and grandparents. He's replaced those programs with others which, he hopes, will lead to quicker processing times and greater economic prosperity for newcomers while filling our domestic labour gaps.

His department has also put a greater emphasis on immigrants speaking either English or French:  in 2010, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) overhauled the citizenship test, requiring a higher score to pass and a higher language proficiency. More recently, the department proposed a revamp of the immigration point grid which will put more weight on a prospective immigrant's age and language ability.

And he's cracked-down on fraudsters — boy has he cracked down on fraudsters.

Earlier this year, Kenney introduced a new regulatory body for immigration consultants that actually has some teeth to punish crooked-consultants.  To the protest of doctors and refugee advocates, CIC has restricted refugee claimants' health benefits and proposed tougher spousal sponsor rules in order to reduce marriage fraud. It is also now strictly enforcing residency requirements for permanent residents.

"[Fraud] has been a very significant problem," Kenney told Yahoo! Canada News in a telephone interview last week.

"I wouldn't over-state it...but unfortunately a significant minority have used crooked immigration agents overseas and in Canada to try to beat the system...We've seen a number of significant problems which were undermining public confidence in our immigration system."

[ More Political Points: Consulate in Toronto forced to drop ‘diaspora tax’ ]

Critics argue that Kenney is merely using fraud as guise to push forward his changes. Liberal immigration critic Kevin Lamoureux has even called some of Kenney's immigration bills "anti-immigrant."

"I certainly do believe that the changes the Minister and the Conservative government have been implementing are unfair, unprecedented and, ultimately, harmful to Canada's immigration system," Lamoureux told Yahoo! Canada News in an email.

"There has always been a sense of compassion in Canada's immigration system whether it's refugee policies or family reunification."

But Kenney insists that the fast pace of changes is necessary.  And he says the public, especially immigrants already in Canada, support his government's initiatives.

"Our system had been terribly mismanaged, to the point where we had over a million people waiting up to nine years for decisions on their immigration applications," he says.

"We are moving towards a fast immigration system which will allow us to do [a] much better job of selecting people likely to succeed in Canada's economy [and] likely to integrate quickly and successfully."

In 2011, Canada accepted about 240,000 permanent residents and 8,000 refugees  — numbers that are among the highest per-capita level in the developed world.

Kenney says that's a level of immigration that he'd like to maintain in the years ahead.

"Most employers would like to see bigger [immigration] numbers but only about 10 or 15 per cent of Canadians want us to raise immigration levels," he said.

"They're already very high and our focus is on improving the outcome [and] the experience of immigrants before increasing the numbers."


No comments:

Post a Comment