It was a very important vote, and at the same time political business as usual.
Last week, the Republican-controlled House voted 245 to 139 to pass H.R. 6429, the STEM Jobs Act of 2012. It looked like a move to increase immigration to the United States among highly skilled immigrants trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (S, T, E, and M—get it? “STEM”). But it was actually a shot across the bow in a much bigger battle.
The Republicans hoped to do something that was good for business and the economy, while also showing that they are not the anti-immigrant party that they are often painted to be. If President Obama and the Democratic Senate oppose the bill it would make them seem equally anti-business and anti-immigrant.
Mid-week last week, the Obama Administration indeed released a statement [PDF] opposing the bill.
The 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. As a part of immigration reform, the Administration strongly supports legislation to attract and retain foreign students who graduate with advanced STEM degrees, to establish a start-up visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs to start businesses and create jobs, and to reform the employment-based immigration system to better meet the needs of the U.S. economy. However, the Administration does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.
Opposing the bill doesn’t come from being anti-business or anti-immigrant, but because President Obama wants comprehensive immigration reform, far more than the Republican caucus would be willing to pass.
So President Obama’s opposition to the bill is meant to put Republicans on the spot. This sliver of immigration reform that Republicans can agree to is only a tiny part of what the country needs to line up the law of the land with the economic and social needs of the country in the immigration area. Republicans are the ones hostile to immigrants and our immigrant traditions, say President Obama and the Democrats.
If you thought there was a change coming to immigration law because of passage of this bill in the House, then you probably think a barking dog is always about to bite. No, this was a message-sending exercise, and the intended recipient was you.
Do you think the only immigration reform we need is a small increase in high-skill immigrants? Or do you think that even greater high-skill immigration should be part of a broader package? These are strategic questions raised by the passage of H.R. 6429 last week. They tee up the debate that may or may not come to the main stage of public next year, under a new Congress and in the second term of the Obama Administration.
Register your opinions in the comments below or on the bill page for H.R. 6429. In the meantime, you can see the current vote on H.R. 6429, the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 just below. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.