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Bipartisan Senate group proposes green cards for tech grads

Current educate 'em then kick 'em out policy 'makes no sense,' say solons

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Pigs were sighted flying over Washington DC on Sunday when a bipartisan group of eight US senators released an immigration reform plan that would, among other things, grant permanent-resident status to foreign nationals who receive advanced tech degrees from US universities.

"It makes no sense to educate the world's future innovators and entrepreneurs only to ultimately force them to leave our country at the moment they are most able to contribute to our economy," wrote senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Charles Schumer (D-NY) in their proposal, entitled "Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform".

The proposal from the four Democrats and four Republicans specifically recommends that a permanent-resident "Green Card" be given to foreign students when they receive a PhD or Master's degree in science, technology, engineering, or math – the so-called STEM fields.

The eight senators' approach is different from the one taken by the US House of Representatives last November when it passed H.R. 6429, a bill that would have granted around 55,000 additional visas to STEM graduates.

That bill was dead on arrival, however, seeing as how it was opposed by President Obama and was unlikely to have had a chance in the Democratically controlled Senate.

When H.R. 6429 was passed, The Reg opined that one reason that Obama was against it was that it sought to solve only one part of the States' thorny immigration conundrum, thus leaving him in a poor bargaining position for much more contentious matters, such as how to deal with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants (or undocumented workers, take your pick) currently residing in the US.

The new "Bipartisan Framework", on the other hand, tackles a broad range of immigration problems. Not only does it offer green cards to STEM graduates, it also proposes a "tough but fair path to citizenship" for current "unauthorized immigrants," an improved employment-verification system, and what amounts to a guest-worker program for "lower-skilled immigrants" that could lead to those workers eventually receiving green cards.

The reform of US immigration law is one of Obama's priorities for his second term, and one for which such business-centric organizations such as the Partnership for a New American Economy have been lobbying for years.

"More than 500 CEOs and mayors from the Partnership for a New American Economy have spent three years making the case that modernizing our immigration system is not only good economics, but also good politics." said the Partnership's co-chair, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a statement. "Four leading Republican Senators and four leading Democratic Senators came together today to break the partisan logjam and bring our antiquated immigration system into a digital economic age."

Of course, not everyone is pleased with the Bipartisan Framework. "Amnesty will not help balance our budget," said Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) of its path-to-citzenship proposals. "In fact, a large-scale amnesty is likely to add trillions of dollars to the debt over time, accelerate Medicare's and Social Security's slide into insolvency, and put enormous strain on our public assistance programs."

The Republican-controlled House is also said to be close to releasing its own immigration proposal, but in light of that chamber's more right-leaning spirit, its ideas are likely to be less generous to the undocumented than those in the eight Senators' Framework.

"When you legalize those who are in the country illegally," said Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), "it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration."

Neither Sessions nor Smith made direct reference to the STEM-degree green cards, but with the climate in Washington being what it is these days, if Obama signals that he's for it, it's likely they'll be agin' it.

What's more, none other than right-wing opinion leader Rush Limbaugh weighed in with his opinion of the Framework on Monday. "The Republican participation in this is taking place largely because they believe if they don't do it, they will never win the presidency again because they will never get Hispanic votes," he said.

"So I don't know that there's any stopping this. It's up to me and Fox News, and I don't think Fox News is that invested in this." But if Limbaugh is invested in defeating the Framework, so is his army of self-described "ditto heads". Before those STEM green cards appear, there's sure to be a battle, and a partisan one.

But it was nice to see those soaring DC piggies, if only for a day. ®

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