The starting gun for the debate on immigration reform went off with the unveiling of a reform framework by a bipartisan group of eight Senators on January 28, the introduction of the Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act on January 29, and the President’s outlining of his own reform plan also on January 29. This past week saw developments further illuminating the prospects for immigration reform with statements from multiple members of Congress at various events. On February 5, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “America’s Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws Against Illegal Immigration”, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor gave a policy speech at the American Enterprise Institute touching on immigration. On February 7, Senators Bennet, McCain and Klobuchar were interviewed on immigration as part of the Atlantic’s“Manufacturing’s Next Chapter” event. The overall effect was to underscore the broad consensus among lawmakers on the need for skilled immigration reform, even as they disagreed on other aspects.
The House Judiciary hearing seemed to illustrate how much the political landscape has changed on immigration since past hearings when few Republicans ventured beyond border security and enforcement. This time, Republicans took issue with whether to include a path to citizenship for the undocumented but seemed open to discussing their legalization short of that. Even more encouraging was the fact that member after member expressed support for increasing STEM visas and skilled immigration, suggesting there is little dispute about the need for it.
Leader Cantor talked in his speech of “foreign nationals with Masters and PhDs, many of whom are then forced to leave the country because there are not enough visa slots in our immigration system to permit them to stay. So rather than being able to invent things here in America, grow businesses or start one on their own, they do all of those things somewhere else.” The House Majority Leader decried how this situation is undermining our economic competitiveness, and committed to correcting it.
Finally, at the Atlantic event, all three Senators spoke of the senselessness of sending foreign students trained here home to compete against us. They also expressed optimism that they could work in a bipartisan way to get immigration reform done. Sen. Klobuchar stated that, “Courage is not giving a speech alone. Courage is standing up with someone you may not always agree with for the betterment of the country.”
We can only hope that such statesmanship prevails. As the component of immigration reform with the broadest support, skilled immigration reform that increases access to STEM visas and entrepreneur visas can be a foundation of agreement on which the larger comprehensive effort can be built, and should be an integral part of any reform legislation.