WASHINGTON—The first post-election foray into immigration reform presented an opportunity for bipartisan agreement Friday on Capitol Hill, but it turned into another bitter disagreement between the parties.
Republicans used their majority and 27 Democrats to pass (245-139) the STEM Jobs Act, a bill that increases by up to 55,000 the number of visas granted to foreign students who graduate from American universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. The bill also allows spouses and children to stay with permanent residents in the United States once they have been on a waiting list for at least one year.
Most Democrats voted against the bill because it eliminates the 22-year-old lottery system awarding visas to applicants from under-represented countries. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the bill’s author, called the lottery system a “fraud-ridden” program in need of replacement.
Members of the corporate community and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support the legislation. A Senate version of the bill is being considered in the upper chamber, but it appears President Barack Obama is opposed to anything less than total reform—something he has done little to bring about in his four years in office.
“The administration does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the president’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform,” the White House said in a statement this week.
Smith said the country needs the economic boost that would occur if the STEM Jobs Act became law: “We cannot afford to educate these foreign graduates in the U.S. and then send them back home to work for our competitors.”