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Congress has H1-B visa epiphany

Quota increase nearly certain now

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Congressional Democrats have found a way to preserve their attenuating social-progressive credentials while at the same time supporting a very popular bill which would raise the quota on H-1B work visas for skilled immigrant labour. The proposed legislation would grant about 200,000 high-tech visas for each of the next three years.

Democrats attempted to attach to the bill a more generous measure called the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act, which would increase grants of amnesty to illegal immigrants and offer permanent residency to more political refugees from Central America and the Caribbean, which President Clinton supports. The President has threatened to veto the bill if the desired add-ons are not included.

Republicans in both chambers have opposed the add-on package, which they fear would increase the population of uneducated, unskilled and probably dark-skinned foreigners wandering about the pristine streets of the USA unsupervised, while at the same time supporting the H-1B increase which the high-tech industry has been demanding.

Neither party wants obstruction of the H-1B bill to hobble their election campaigns on grounds that they've failed to indulge any key demand of the New Economy. And no one dares piss off high-tech CEOs whose campaign donations have lately become quite lavish.

But the Republicans know that if the bill were to fail, they would pay the lesser price at the polls for obstructing just the sort of immigration most Americans oppose, in spite of what they may say about the plight of the world's unfortunate. The Democrats know that too, and naturally blinked.

To rescue themselves from an apparent cave-in, the Democrats have vowed to sustain a Presidential veto of an important appropriations bill, which must be enacted before Congress adjourns, unless it includes the immigration package they'd previously tried to attach to the H1-B measure.

The Senate and House minority leaders, Tom Daschle (Democrat, South Dakota) and Dick Gephardt (Democrat, Missouri), have chosen the appropriations bill for the State, Justice and Commerce Departments as the new target for the additional immigration measures.

Forty-three Senators and 152 Representatives signed a letter urging a veto of the appropriations measure if it doesn't include the immigration provisions. The numbers represent a comfortable margin of votes needed to sustain a White House veto.

"I think it's fair to say one of the hardest bills to sustain a veto on is an appropriations bill," Daschle said with satisfaction.

Emphasising his party's commitment to the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act, Daschle said that "If we do not pass [it] this year, thousands of immigrant workers from Central America and the Caribbean are in danger of being deported."

"These are good people who have been in this country, in many cases for more than a decade. They've worked hard at jobs others don't want, and paid their taxes."

The Act will level the playing field for immigrants who have been unable to benefit from laws passed in 1997 and 1998 which gave permanent residence to Cubans and Nicaraguans, two groups with powerful Washington lobbies.

It would establish uniform procedures for granting permanent residency, and extend them to cover Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Haitians, nationals of the former Soviet bloc and Eastern Europe, Hondurans and Liberians.

Republicans reject the bill as mere Democratic election-year posturing, sucking up to Hispanic voters while unfairly branding the Republicans as xenophobes.

One naturally detests name-calling. Still, if it waddles like a duck, and it quacks like a duck.... ®

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