A bipartisan group of six senators — including Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), the Gang of Eight member mulling a run for president — released the first bipartisan immigration bill of the new Congress, in the form of legislation to expand high-tech visas and green cards for immigrants.
“Our bill is a commonsense, bipartisan approach to help ensure that those who have come here to be educated in high-tech fields are able to stay with their families and contribute to the economy and our society,” said Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), who headed up the effort. “I’m calling on everyone — the president, members of both parties, and stakeholders in the tech community — to support this bill and help make it the first step towards real immigration reform.”
Hatch leads the Senate GOP’s high-tech task force, and in that capacity has regular contact with industry representatives; in the last two weeks, he met with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Apple CEO Tim Cook this month to discuss the bill. Three Democrats with high-tech industry in their states — Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, and Delaware’s Chris Coons — co-sponsored the legislation.
The high-tech language was a sweetener provision that was designed to get Republicans on board with a comprehensive immigration bill last Congress, so the Democratic support on this provision presents Obama with something of a dilemma: if it passes through Congress, he would have to choose between vetoing a bipartisan bill or signing legislation that weakens his negotiation position in future immigration talks.
The bill doesn’t have unanimous Republican support, though. Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) circulated an “immigration handbook” to every Republican in Congress that, among other things, takes aim at just such a proposal.
“Recent data from the Census Bureau confirmed that a stunning 3 in 4 Americans with a STEM degree do not hold a job in a STEM field — that’s a pool of more than 11 million Americans with STEM qualifications who lack STEM employment,” Sessions wrote. “It is understandable why these corporations push for legislation that will flood the labor market and keep pay low; what is not understandable is why we would ever consider advancing legislation that provides jobs for the citizens of other countries at the expense of our own.”
The Republican trio includes Hatch, Rubio, and one other Gang of Eight alumnus, Senator Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.). “The reforms in this legislation lead the way to such a system, which I believe we can ultimately achieve after meeting the immediate challenges of securing our borders and improving internal enforcement,” Rubio said in his statement on the bill.
The lawmakers introduced the bill one day before House and Senate Republicans take joint retreat in Pennsylvania, where the lawmakers are expected to have closed-door debates about their agenda for the 114th Congress. One hot-button issue is immigration, especially in the context of the Department of Homeland Security funding. The House is expected to pass a bill denying funding for the implementation of several of President Obama’s executive actions.