U.S. House Republicans were wrong to use education as a front for changes to immigration policy
For a second there, it looked like the U.S. House of Representatives was on the verge of a bipartisan accord that would benefit higher education and create American jobs. HR 6429 was introduced to the floor Tuesday by a Republican and dozens of co-sponsors, all of whom except one belong to the GOP. By a suspension of the rules, it was rushed for a Thursday vote, but not before House Democrats could ascertain the bill’s misguided logic and help vote it down. By redistributing available green cards to graduate students from other immigrants, “The STEM Jobs Act” used education rhetoric to smuggle in immigration reform and introduced partisanship when none should have been necessary.
The bill’s text cited the increased participation of international students in domestic graduate schools in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It broached the problem of retaining these students, who are equipped with the quantitative skills in highest demand. To allow these students to stay in this country, the bill posited, would be beneficial for both U.S. firms and those students facing bureaucratic difficulties in applying for and receiving their green card of residence.
In this sense, “The STEM Jobs Act” addressed a genuine problem the nation has an interest in solving. “STEM” education is a platform belonging to both parties; two of the term’s leading advocates are President Barack Obama and our Gov. Bob McDonnell. Providing more green cards is an incisive measure that would boost this country’s industry and help it maintain its academic supremacy by the mere fact of making it easier for students to live here. The bill also presented a sound infrastructure for implementation, outlining which students and universities are eligible for green cards in simple, agreeable prose.
It comes as something of a sleight of hand, then, that the bill applied such a controversial measure to come up with the students’ green cards. HR 6429 would completely eliminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a lottery that allocates 55,000 green cards annually to aliens arriving from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. The fact that this STEM initiative would entirely replace the visa program, green card by green card, makes the bill less of a positive attempt to better education than a misdirection seized by Republicans to eliminate what they saw as an unfavorable program.
Democrats obviously supported the spirit of “The STEM Jobs Act” considering they introduced two bills last week based on the original’s premise, but that would create new green cards without touching the lottery. Much of the frustration aired in Congress last week had to do with the hurried and ulterior nature of the Republican bill.
Too often, both parties insert controversial riders on popular bills to ensure that politically unfeasible reforms pass on the momentum of something more glamorous. For example, Democrats amended the 2010 Affordable Care Act to include substantial student loan reform. In the present case, the especially hasty maneuvers of the Republican Party to try to change immigration policy under the pretension of improving education is not only bad governance. It is also disrespectful to those groups invested in education that may have thought bipartisan support could translate into change without the involvement of politics.