The Republican-led House passed the STEM Jobs Act today in what conservatives are touting as the party's first step in comprehensive immigration reform. But Democrats are already knocking down the bill, calling it "racist" for eliminating the green card lottery program typically reserved for poorer immigrants.
The bill passed the House with 245 yays to 139 nays, and is not expected to move in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The bill, if enacted, would allocate visas to 55,000 immigrants with American degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math, while terminating the green card lottery's 55,000 annual visas.
Democrats slammed the bill earlier this week as a vehicle to eliminate the Diversity VISA, a program that offers visas to immigrants from countries with low levels of immigration to the United States – usually poorer immigrants, often from Africa.
Business interests have lobbied hard for a STEM bill, saying it was needed to help spur the economy and House Republicans said this was the first step in larger immigration reform.
"Our commitment to foreign STEM graduates is a commitment to American job creation," Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said.
Recently, Republicans tacked on a provision to allow families of all immigrants to stay in the United States while they wait for their visas -- a measure that would have affected hundreds of thousands of foreigners waiting to join their spouses and parents in the country -- but Democrats said they hadn’t been consulted on the concession and it did little to sweeten the pot because it restricted family members' ability to work.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., called the family provision “meager” on the House floor today. She previously introduced a competing bill that created STEM visas without eliminating the green card lottery.
On the House floor on Thursday and Friday, Democrats slammed Republicans for the bill which House staffers say was never a bipartisan effort, despite their support for STEM visas.
The Hill reported that Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., called the bill racist, saying it “is racist, if not in its intent, then certainly in its effect."
The bill “is more about politics and optics for the Republicans than about anything substantive,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told msnbc.com before the vote. “Republicans 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.”
On the House floor, Gutierrez, who chairs the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, pointed to the country’s roots as his reason for voting against the bill.
"Talk about picking winners and losers,'' the representative said according to Reuters. “There was no special line for PhD's and master's degree holders at Ellis Island. There was no asterisk on the Statue of Liberty that said your IQ must be this high to enter.''