Commentary: STEM Bill Passes House but Real Reform Still to Come

Congressman Luis Gutierrez is a vocal critic of both the STEM and ACHIEVE acts. (Photo: Flickr/talkradionews)

In their desire to rehabilitate their anti-immigrant image, Republican lawmakers have been scrambling to put forth immigration bills far short of House Speaker Boehner’s call for comprehensive reform.

Earlier this week, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced their watered down version of the DREAM Act, which they christened the ACHIEVE Act. While young undocumented immigrants brought unwittingly into the country would have a chance to gain permanent residency through higher education or military service and after a long process that could span a decade, they are not offered a pathway to citizenship unlike the DREAM Act. Moreover, they would not be eligible for federal public benefits or assistance, including student loans.

“The problem with the ACHIEVE Act is it does not achieve the dream,” quipped Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) during a press conference Wednesday. Congressman Luis Gutierrez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Immigration Task Force, dismissed the initiative as “too little, too late.”

Today, the House of Representatives voted on the Science, Technology, Engineering of Mathematics (STEM) Jobs Act, which amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to make up to 55,000 visas available to qualified immigrants who have advanced STEM degrees from a U.S. university, at the expense of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

Guitierrez also opposed the STEM bill, saying that it “is more about politics and optics for the Republicans than about anything substantive.” He believes that GOP lawmakers “are more interested in killing the Diversity Visa program, which goes mostly to immigrants from Africa, than in creating a program for science and tech graduates.”

The White House also chimed in through a statement which stresses that the Obama administration “is deeply committed to building a 21st-century immigration system that meets the Nation’s economic and security needs through common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform,” and as part of a broader immigration reform effort, “strongly supports legislation to attract and retain foreign students who graduate with advanced STEM degrees.” The administration however, “does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.”

These narrow GOP-led immigration initiatives are thus, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Democrats in the meantime, continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus released Wednesday “ONE NATION: Principles on Immigration Reform and Our Commitment to the American Dream,” a manifesto that insists on full and inclusive reform.

The set of principles includes an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the inclusion of families of binational same-gender couples as well as a commitment to attracting the best and the brightest while ensuring national prosperity and security.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

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AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.