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Republicans in Congress last week continued their efforts to advance targeted immigration reform legislation. The Republican-controlled House passed a bill to create more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) green cards. In the Senate, Republicans as the minority party, introduced the ACHIEVE Act to grant legal status to young people brought to the United States as children.
STEM Legislation: The Republican-backed STEM Jobs Act (H.R. 6429) passed the House on November 30, by a vote of 245 to 139. The bill would create 55,000 new green cards each year for foreign students graduating with STEM degrees from U.S. universities. The bill would also allow family members of current green card holders to wait in the U.S. for their green cards, rather than waiting for years outside the country. To offset the new STEM green card numbers, the bill would eliminate the Diversity Visa program. Democrats support the Diversity Visa program, so prospects for passage of the STEM Jobs Act in the Democrat-controlled Senate are slim. The White House issued a statement agreeing with the need for more STEM green cards, but opposing the STEM Jobs Act. The Administration prefers to deal with all immigration issues in a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) package, rather than through separate bills addressing individual issues.
ACHIEVE Act: In the Senate, retiring Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Kyl introduced the ACHIEVE Act, which is similar in some respects to the Democrat-backed DREAM Act. Like the DREAM Act, the ACHIEVE Act would allow young people brought to the U.S. illegally to secure lawful status. However, the ACHIEVE Act is more restrictive than the DREAM Act. The most significant difference is that the ACHIEVE Act would not grant permanent residency (green cards) to applicants, so they would not be eligible to become U.S. citizens through the Act. Beneficiaries of the ACHIEVE Act would receive a form of indefinitely renewable temporary status. Democrats insist that this category of young people have a path to U.S. citizenship. It is unlikely that the ACHIEVE Act will move forward in the current lame duck session of Congress.
CIR in the New Congress: Action on these targeted pieces of immigration legislation is a prelude to what is anticipated to be a larger focus on immigration reform in the next Congress. CIR is expected to be on the agenda when the new Congress convenes in January 2013. In the weeks following the election, many Republicans have stated that the party needs to work with Democrats to fashion a comprehensive package of measures to fix the nation's immigration system. The key sticking point is what to do about the millions of people currently in the country without authorization. In the past, most Republicans have opposed any sort of legalization program. It remains to be seen whether a sufficient number of Republicans will be willing to allow for some form of legalization.
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