A portion of the Emma Lazarus poem, The New Colossus, engraved on a bronze plaque on the Statue of Liberty invites invites the tired, poor and huddled masses into the United States. If the bipartisan Senate team who drafted a much anticipated comprehensive immigration reform bill known as the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” rewrote the sonnet it read something closer to “give me your engineers, multinational CEOs and computer programmers.”
While most press releases will likely celebrate the included “path to citizenship” for the undocumented who arrived prior to 2012, pay fines, submit to a background check, and learn English all while not taking a dime in any benefits programs, the proposal guts a key rallying point for many organizations, family unification.
While the bill provides for an unlimited number visas per year for foreign spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents, eighteen months after the law goes into effect, 70,000 visas reserved for siblings and married children over 30 years of age of U.S. citizens will be eliminated. Seems like family will only include your legal husband or wife and kid. The definition of family is further limited in the bill by offering no provision for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender couples. This can only be interpreted as a nod to conservative evangelicals who have always formed a part of multiple coalitions fighting for comprehensive immigration reform.
Often heard in the sweeping rhetoric leading up to the release of the bill is the “American dream” narrative, with migrants coming for better opportunities and creating them here, not arriving armed with the tools for success like higher education and money. The new bill will favor immigrants who have already achieved a certain level of success via academia or business.
The Diversity Visa program, a lottery which offered visas for individuals coming from underrepresented countries, many of them African nations, will be gutted. The Senate doesn’t want to take a chance on the kind of immigrant who arrives. Instead 220,000 new green cards will be offered to the “exceptional” including scientists and professors. Visas for highly skilled engineers and computer programmers would double from 65,000 to 110,000, possibly rising up to 180,000. The bill exempts those with doctorates in STEM fields, from annual limits, as well as qualified physicians and multinational executives. There will also be new start-up visas for entrepreneurs, and awards merit based visas to individuals based on a point system for education and employment.
The non-exceptional, the majority, will be limited to a new visa program for 20,000 foreigners in 2015, increasing to 75,000 in 2019. Visas for agriculture workers will be limited to 337,000 over three years and a sparkly new federal bureau, the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research, will analyze employment data and make recommendations for annual guest-worker visas caps beginning in 2020, to exceed no more than 200,000 per year.
This analysis of just some portions of the bill is based only on a seventeen page teaser summary of the bill released by the Democrats and Republicans who worked on it. It remains to be seen what other concessions will be buried deep in the document. But based on what we have seen and heard so far, it seems like a lot was given up in the name of a path to citizenship. What remains to be seen is response from the organizations who pushed for family unification including LGBT families as well as the expected push back from the right. This will probably be the bill that passes, but is it what the U.S. and the world needs?
Photo Credit: David Sachs/SEIU