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Democrat pushes to reverse decision to pull immigration bill

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California still wants a floor vote as ‘the only real way to see where Members of Congress stand’ on her green card bill

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., in the Capitol in November.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., in the Capitol in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday to express “great disappointment” that her legislation to revise green card caps was yanked from consideration on the House floor, the latest immigration effort to flounder in the final weeks of the year.

Lofgren, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said the bill is “a small and important step forward” to revise the legal immigration system for the first time in decades. It would phase out per-country caps on employment-based green cards to reduce lengthy backlogs.

“It is essential that we alleviate the hardships for those who are suffering most under the decades-long immigrant visa backlogs,” Lofgren wrote in the letter.

The bill’s removal from the schedule came after several false starts and postponements, an early indication that support within the Democratic Caucus was less than a sure bet. Despite being debated on the House floor on Tuesday and scheduled for a vote, the legislation was officially bumped from the schedule on Wednesday evening.

A House Democratic leadership aide said Thursday that the bill was pulled because it didn’t have the votes to pass.

Lofgren urged Pelosi in the letter to reconsider and call the legislation up for a vote again “as soon as possible.”

“While I acknowledge the vote count shows a very close vote, and potentially even a loss, the only real way to see where Members of Congress stand on this bill is to call the vote,” Lofgren wrote.

Divides

The so-called EAGLE Act would phase out, over a nine-year period, the annual limits on employment-based green cards allotted to citizens of any one given country and would raise the per-country cap on family-based green cards from 7 percent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 percent.

These limits have forced individuals from certain nations to spend years or even decades in waitlists for a green card. Employment-based green cards are capped at 140,000 annually, while certain categories of family-based green cards are capped at roughly a quarter-million.

The employment-based caps have disproportionately affected green card applicants from India and China, two countries that have sent more foreign citizens in high-skilled visa categories than are accommodated by the caps. The family-based caps most affect applicants from Mexico.

But the bill, which garnered significant bipartisan support just a few years ago, has proved to be divisive even among Democrats and immigrant advocates.

The House passed an earlier version of the bill, known as the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, in 2019, with 224 votes from Democrats and 140 from Republicans. The Senate also passed it in December 2020 with some changes, but the chambers were unable to resolve the difference between their two versions before the year ended.

But this year’s version has garnered far less support across the aisle.

Critics of the bill have warned that scrapping the per-country caps, and processing green card requests in order of receipt, will result in the majority of green cards going to applicants from India and China at the expense of applicants from other countries.

“The practical effect of this bill is that for the foreseeable future, the citizens of only two countries — China and India — will be admitted to work here. Workers from every other country will have to wait many years until that backlog clears,” Rep. Tom McClintock of California, the top Republican on the immigration panel, said on the House floor Tuesday.

Democratic concerns

Democrats have voiced similar concerns. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., wrote to her colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus earlier this month to raise concerns that would-be immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean would be squeezed out if country-based visa caps were eliminated without an increase in the number of visas available overall.

“I cannot support efforts that would perpetuate the current inequities in our immigration system. I believe we can do better,” Clarke wrote.

Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin, who also chairs the Judiciary Committee that oversees immigration bills, has introduced another version that would eliminate the per-country caps while increasing the number of total green cards available. Durbin’s bill would do this by no longer counting dependents, such as visa applicants’ minor children, against the total cap.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association, which advocates for pro-immigrant policies, also opposes the bill. The organization said while it supports ending the per-country cap, the EAGLE Act “does not strike the right balance of eliminating per-country limitations without adversely impacting others.”

In a brief interview Thursday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and was previously on a work visa, blamed opposition to the legislation on a “misunderstanding that somehow this is negative for certain communities” and said there is “still conversation about getting it to the floor.”

Caroline Coudriet contributed to this report.

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