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Republicans propose repressive, restrictive immigration bills in lame duck session

By Brad Sigal |
November 29, 2012
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Washington, D.C. - Reeling from their loss in the presidential election, in which Latinos overwhelmingly voted against Mitt Romney in no small part due to Republicans’ extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric, the Republicans have begun to introduce immigration-related bills in the lame duck congressional session. This is a sudden and dramatic shift after congressional Republicans have systematically shut down any attempt at federal immigration reform legislation over the past four years. Instead they have focused on implementing highly repressive anti-immigrant laws modeled on Arizona’s SB1070 in as many states as possible.

Two years ago, the DREAM Act - which would legalize some immigrant youth who go to college or join the military - passed the House and came within five votes of passing the Senate, with every Republican and five Democrats voting against it. After shutting that effort down, now Senator John McCain (AZ) and retiring Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) and Jon Kyl (AZ) have introduced a Republican alternative to the DREAM Act they’ve dubbed the “Achieve Act.”

Immigrant rights activists quickly dismissed the Achieve Act as unacceptable. Some have dubbed the Republicans’ alternative to be the “nightmare version” of the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act itself has gone through several increasingly restrictive iterations over the years, in an attempt by Democrats to woo more Republicans to support it. Those efforts to woo Republican support via more restriction and repression have so far failed, though after the recent election the Republicans are again open to discuss immigration bills that include some mix of repression and legalization.

The new Republican Achieve Act is even more restrictive than the most recent version of the DREAM Act. It would funnel more youth into the military and make it harder for them to go to college. It would also never allow immigrants to get citizenship, only residency.

Another immigration bill the Republicans introduced in the lame duck session is a pro-business bill that would grant green cards to immigrants who get high tech advanced degrees in U.S. universities. Up to 55,000 immigrants could get visas annually if they’re in advanced degree science, technology, engineering or math fields. But it would not allow the total number of immigrants to increase; on the contrary the proposal would also eliminate the diversity visa lottery, which grants 50,000 green cards a year to immigrants from countries that don’t have a large number of immigrants in the U.S. The diversity visa lottery is one of the few avenues open for African immigration to the U.S. as well as immigration from some other underrepresented countries. Almost half of the 50,000 diversity visas go to immigrants from Africa and almost a quarter of all immigrants from African entered through the diversity program in 2011.

This focus on work visas, particularly for highly educated, high-skilled immigrants, at the expense of visas for immigrants from underrepresented countries and for lower-skilled immigrant workers, is the general approach that big business wants in immigration reform. The Republican proposal to push currently undocumented youth into a military track while preventing them from ever getting citizenship appears to be a non-starter, an attempt to juggle between big business interests and the Republicans' rabidly anti-immigrant base while trying to sound like they aren’t anti-immigrant.

President Obama and congressional Democrats are unlikely to give these Republican bills a hearing, as Democrats are publicly announcing plans to push for “comprehensive immigration reform” in the upcoming regular congressional session. They are planning to pick up where their last stalled comprehensive proposal left off, with a bill that would have a mix of increased repressive measures like a more militarized border and increased “interior enforcement” of immigration laws and a guest worker program with some sort of legalization that is yet undefined in scope or process. Immigrant rights activists are preparing to push for immigration reform legislation that legalizes all immigrant workers and that doesn’t increase repressive measures against immigrants or expand a guest worker program.

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