The Obama administration said Wednesday it opposes House Republicans’ first postelection immigration effort to entice more high-tech university graduates to stay in the U.S., signaling that this month’s election has yet to foster a breakthrough on Capitol Hill on an issue all sides expect to dominate.
In a statement, President Obama’s budget office said he would rather see a big, broad deal that includes legalizing illegal immigrants, rather than the kind of piecemeal approach House Speaker John A. Boehner has said the GOP will pursue.
Republicans’ bill, which is expected to be debated Thursday and Friday on the House floor, would cancel the diversity visa lottery and shift 55,000 annual immigration visas over to go to those who obtain doctoral degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and author of the bill, said not only does legislation seek to keep sought-after immigrants, it eliminates the visa lottery, which doles out visas to applicants from underrepresented countries based on luck of the draw.
“By eliminating visas that are literally awarded on the basis of chance, and invite fraud and are a threat to national security, we are improving the system,” he said.
Both sides of the debate say they want to entice more high-tech graduates to stay.
But Democrats said they don’t want to eliminate the diversity lottery to do so.
“This bill is premised on a dangerous thought, which is that immigration is a zero-sum game,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, the ranking Democrat on the immigration subcommittee. “If we accept that zero-sum premise, we are going to be unable to craft comprehensive top-to-bottom immigration reform.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, hinted that race may be playing a role in the GOP’s move to eliminate the lottery. She read off some of the countries that dominate the diversity lottery winners’ list today — Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria and other African nations — and compared the modern list to the 1990s, when the lottery was dominated by European nations.
“There was no discussion at that time about eliminating the diversity visa,” she said.
The White House didn’t list its objections other than to say Republicans’ bill was too “narrowly tailored.”
In its statement, the budget office instead laid out Mr. Obama’s principles for how he wants to tackle the issue: “Such an approach must provide for attracting and retaining highly skilled immigrants and uniting Americans with their family members more quickly, as well as other important priorities such as establishing a pathway for undocumented individuals to earn their citizenship, holding employers accountable for breaking the law, and continuing efforts to strengthen the nation’s robust enforcement system.”
Also Wednesday, Hispanic members of Congress drew lines around the kind of deal they’ll accept, ruling out any bill that doesn’t include citizenship rights for most illegal immigrants.
They said after years of pushing Congress to act, they sense their time has finally come, as Democrats sense the rising electoral power of immigration and Hispanic voters, and Republicans fear a future without being able to win some of those voters.
“We used to be the uninvited party crashers,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat and longtime battler for an immigration bill. “All of the sudden we’re the belle of the ball. Well, it’s time to dance.”