Despite Promised Reform, Impasse on Immigration Prevails

In this Dec. 1, 2011 file photo Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., speaks on Capitol Hil
In this Dec. 1, 2011 file photo Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington during the committee's hearing to examine US strategic objectives towards Iran. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

In their desire to rehabilitate their anti-immigrant image, Republican lawmakers have been scrambling to put forth immigration bills far short of anything comprehensive as initially called for by House Speaker Boehner.

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."

On Friday, 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."

Although the STEM bill passed in the House of Representatives, there is little to no chance that it will survive the Democratic-led Senate, where leaders like Charles Schumer (D-NY) prefer that STEM legislation be part of comprehensive immigration reform. Moreover, the ACHIEVE Act, another narrow GOP-led immigration initiative is a non-starter as its sponsors are ending their terms.

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.

Less than a month after both sides expressed purported seriousness in tackling immigration, it looks like we're back to the same o' same o'. Republicans refuse to seriously consider comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform while Democrats refuse to compromise their vision to once and for all rehabilitate our dysfunctional immigration system. If no one budges, everyone pays come 2014 and 2016.