For all the election-season partisan squabbling and posturing we got last year over immigration reform — supposedly a one-party issue, if you’re among the GOP mainstream — the new Congress is now in session and everything is pretty much business as usual.
Take immigration reform as it pertains to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workers. Last fall, it seemed like a cut-and-dried issue: The Democrats were for it and the Republicans were against it. Now, with everyone safely sworn in for the 114th Congress, the battle lines are a little different: Almost everyone is for it, except for a handful of Tea Party types, along with a few old-school GOP conservative holdouts.
A bipartisan group of senators is preparing to revive a stalled 2013 bill aimed at loosening the current threshold of 65,000 H-1B visas annually for immigrants working in the tech sector. It’s a move that’s supposed to alleviate an espoused shortage of labor among U.S. tech companies.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) heads up the PR team behind the Immigration Innovation Act — a bill that would increase the annual number of STEM visas from 65,000 to 115,000. According to The Hill, Hatch is joined by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in co-sponsoring the bill.
Hatch called the bill a “commonsense approach to ensuring that those who have come here to be educated in high-tech fields have the ability to stay here with their families and contribute to the economy and our society.”
But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the perennial, reliable opponent of the reform agenda, opposes the bill, saying it’s a veiled attempt at artificially cheapening the cost of labor for big U.S. tech companies, resulting in suppressed wages for an American tech labor pool that’s not as scant as the bill’s backers claim.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), meanwhile, is rattling the saber over the Obama administration’s unilateral action on immigration enforcement, but that appears to be a quid-pro-quo political stance that focuses on DHS funding, while ignoring the ramifications of the STEM bill before the Senate.
The Hill reported Tuesday that Boehner is threatening to caucus against funding the Department of Homeland Security unless President Obama revisits his executive action on immigration — a move intended mainly to force Obama into compromise on unrelated issues like military spending and the Keystone XL pipeline.
“[B]oth Obama and Republicans expressed an interest in finding common ground on areas like cybersecurity, trade and taxes, according to pool reports and readouts,” The Hill reported. “Republicans said they also pressed Obama on approving the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, which the president has vowed to veto, and sending up a new military authorization for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”
No mention, though, of where the Speaker stands on the Senate’s efforts to open a new floodgate for foreign STEM workers.