Republicans' New Immigration Agenda

Photos by Getty Images; Illustration by Bloomberg View

It was January 2014, six months after the Senate had overwhelmingly passed immigration reform, when Speaker of the House John Boehner said, "It's time to deal with it." He never did. Come this January, when Boehner will in all likelihood have a stronger majority of his own and a Republican Senate to play with, he will have a chance to right this wrong.

It won't be easy. Momentum has shifted from the pro-immigrant camp of Senators John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida to the vitriolic corner of Representative Steve King of Iowa. Nativist fantasies have run wild in some Republican campaigns this fall. In such an environment, comprehensive immigration legislation is unlikely. Still, Republicans may be able to muster support for a couple of measures to ease the immigration mess.

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First is legislation to make it easier for highly skilled immigrants to work for U.S. companies. The current system encourages talented immigrants to study at U.S. universities -- then to take their valuable educations and skills elsewhere. It's the policy equivalent of a trucking company delivering its brand-new fleet of trucks, gift-wrapped, to a competitor.

The House previously passed a bill prioritizing visas for immigrants with math and science skills. But it did so by eliminating diversity visas, which are distributed to immigrants from countries not well represented in the U.S. Democrats objected and the legislation died. If the U.S. has to choose, so-called STEM visas are more valuable to the economy than diversity visas. However, both have a purpose; Republicans should pick up the cause.

The other immigration priority for a Republican Congress is a Dream Act to enable immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to gain a pathway to citizenship. No rational agenda is served by denying security and livelihoods to immigrants who grew up American and graduated from U.S. schools.

QuickTake Swerving Path to Citizenship

President Barack Obama has already extended temporary legal status to Dreamers. It is doubtful any successor will be able to withdraw it. Thus, Republicans, who face a difficult future among Hispanic voters, can do the nation and themselves a favor by enacting a permanent fix for Dreamers.

--Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Michael Newman.

To contact the editor on this story:
David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net