Hurdles get higher as immigration reform races through the tracks

For skilled workers, GOP proposals might be a way out.

By Sujeet Rajan

"Sujeet"NEW YORK: The good thing about a sport like the 110 m. hurdles is that you know that you can reach the finish line even if you knock down a few hurdles, slow down maybe, but still make it. The bad thing about politics is that when the finish line is clear, hurdles sometimes can grow bigger, become insurmountable, passing a piece of legislation blocked from vision altogether.

That seems to be the case of the complex immigration reform bill as it makes its way excruciatingly through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Even as hurdles in the form of amendments are being overcome, bigger hurdles are being positioned in the House, on the race track to the White House, where President Obama waits with pen in hand to sign legislation.

RELATED STORY: Amendment to limit Green Cards to 1.2 million per year defeated

As the Senate waits for its Committee to finish work on the bill and send it for their vote, a parallel race track is forming in the GOP-controlled House, where some contentious agreements over disagreements have formed; two of them with the potential to be deal breakers.

A group of eight lawmakers in the House of Representatives have tentatively come with a proposal of their own, but cannot come to terms on the issue of healthcare for undocumented workers, despite agreeing on granting citizenship to undocumented workers after 15 years of legal residence, a subject which the hardliners in the party don’t see eye to eye with and is at odds with the Senate proposals which pegs it down to 13 years.

Senate Judiciary Committee agrees to H-1B visas to be tripled

The fact that they could come to an agreement on the citizenship aspect is itself a minor miracle at this early stage of the battle.

“This is historic. The idea that a couple of rock red Republicans could reach agreement with members of the congressional Hispanic caucus, in the US political context that’s like Israelis and Palestinians making peace. They speak different languages, and up to now all they’ve done is fight,” Frank Sharry, director of the immigration reform group America’s Voice, was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

Politico pointed out the growing consensus on Capitol Hill of the big fight approaching.

“I don’t think it can pass the House,” said Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said of the Senate bill, echoing the quiet conversation of top House Republican leaders, reported Politico. “I think our bill has a better chance of passing the House than the Senate bill. We went more into detail than they did. They’ve got holes all through their bill.”

Even if simple math were to be used and the Senate and House come to agreement that citizenship should be available after 14 years – a compromise between 13 and 15 years – the real deal breaker is likely to be the fact that one of the fundamental fights of the GOP and their resultant aversion to the immigration overhaul, is not to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants, to give amnesty as they see it. It’s one thing for a group of eight bipartisan members to come up with a deal, and another for the House to pass it.

The other imposing hurdle is the disagreement over health coverage for undocumented workers. The bipartisan group in the House agree that illegaland new unskilled workers should take their own private coverage, but also want to exclude them form Federal benefits, like food stamps, even if a family falls below the poverty line.

It’s really ludicrous to even point out, but with the exorbitant cost of healthcare increasing year after year and nobody really sure of how it’s going to really pan out once Obamacare starts to kick in from next year, how on earth can a family of four, with the adults unskilled, and children who need assistance in pre-school tuition, be able to buy private health coverage? The question to be asked is, is the purpose of this immigration reform to bring in millions of new immigrants to live a life of penury, on the verge of financial doom?

And the unfortunate fact is that if the bill goes through, then those unskilled workers will come no matter what, to work hard for their children, to give them an opportunity to rise in life and live whatever would be left of the American Dream. As for the jobs for these unskilled workers that is turning out to be another contentious point. The Democrats want guest worker visas to be capped at 200,000 a year; the Republicans want the cap to be higher, to cater to the farms and the oil, construction lobbies.

The Washington Post surmised that there’s also the one option Republicans have been talking about seemingly in one voice: which involves chopping immigration into several different bills instead of one comprehensive bill. That option would, however, virtually guarantee that comprehensive immigration reform dies, since supporters aren’t going to be willing to pass border security or other provisions without securing a path to citizenship. The Post article also asks the critical question, if the House passes reform mostly with Democratic votes, will John Boehner’s speakership be in trouble, as some conservatives have argued?

If the whole exercise is being done with an eye on the Latino votes going into the 2016 elections, even if the Republicans let the bill pass giving citizenship to undocumented workers, the fact of the matter is that by the time the bitter fight comes to an end, Latinos would have seen through the games the Republicans played to block them out of a chance to be here legally, and that’s certainly not going to help the GOP win new voters, apart from some Hispanic origin legislators who can look forward to the 2020 elections.

But for legal immigrants, skilled workers, the GOP talk of breaking the immigration proposals into smaller bills would make more sense. So far, as ABC News pointed out, there have been bills introduced that deal with agricultural guest workers and E-Verify, an electronic system that checks the work eligibility of employees.

An aide in the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration legislation and is chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), told ABC/Univision: “The House Judiciary Committee welcomes all ideas and proposals to fix our broken immigration system and Chairman Goodlatte encourages the bipartisan House working group to keep working towards producing a bill,” the aide said.”Simultaneously, the House Judiciary Committee continues to take a step-by-step approach towards reforming our immigration system and is methodically reviewing each individual issue within the larger debate to make sure we get immigration reform right.”

The biggest argument for the skilled workers is for the immigration limbo to end, to streamline a process where the wait for Green Cards, if not as the current wait lines at immigration at the JFK which is about three hours, to have it at least come down to a reasonable two to three years once one has lived, studied and worked here legally for a few requisite years. Those who come here on H1B visas also want the same applied to them, for those who did not go to school here, but who can demonstrate that they have lived here for the required number of years, not to perhaps exceed a decade.

Unlike the talk of giving citizenship to undocumented workers, most legal immigrants are more bothered about securing their Green Cards first, which liberate them to work wherever they want to, to start a business and to travel without fear. What skilled workers don’t want is that in all this talk of undocumented workers, their concerns are only partially taken care of.

A piecemeal legislation for only skilled workers would ensure that it is streamlined properly and debated well enough.

Indeed, a study if it were to be done of Indians who prefer either a Green Card or US Citizenship, might reveal that many would prefer only a Green Card, as most hate to give up on their Indian citizenship, which creates complex problems and changes in laws in property buying and taxes, back home.

Despite the remaining hurdles, supporters of immigration reform agree that the prospects for success are now looking good, as reported by The Guardian. Ali Noorani, director of the National Immigration Forum, said: “The amazing part about this is that none of these problems are intractable. They can all be tackled if both sides are willing to compromise, as they do seem to be.”

(SujeetRajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar).

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