Examining the flawed immigration reform bill

Julianne Malveaux | 5/8/2013, 5 p.m.

The Senate's Gang of Eight have put together an 844-page monstrosity known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, legislation that President Barack Obama says he "basically approves" of.

The crafters of this essentially unreadable bill were senators Dick Durbin (Illinois), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).

On its surface, the bill provides much-needed relief to many of the 11 million undocumented people who live in our country. The challenge is that it disadvantages some immigrants, especially African and Caribbean immigrants, while helping others.

Further, the senators crafting the bill put goodies into the legislation that only serve to advantage themselves or their states. Sen. Graham wants more visas for the meat packing industry. Sen. Schumer provided special provisions for Irish people with a high school diploma (why?); Sen. Rubio, the much touted possible presidential candidate in 2016, asked for more visas for the cruise ship industry; and Sen. Bennett wants more visas for workers in ski resorts.

Meanwhile, the legislation would eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, which allows a visa lottery for countries that have low levels (less than 50,000 people) of immigration to the United States. Many African immigrants come here through this program (Ghana and Nigeria each had six thousand immigrants through this program in 2011; African immigrants are 36 percent of those receiving diversity visas). Thus, while Sen. Schumer pushes for special provisions for Irish immigrants, there is no one on the Senate side pushing for special provisions for African and Caribbean immigrants.

Instead of the Diversity Visa Program, Senate Bill 744 creates between 120,000 and 200,000 visas on a "merit-based" system, which gives highest priority to those who have future employment opportunities.

Because employers do not seek out African and Caribbean immigrants for employees (as they seek out Indian and Chinese employees), the merit-based point system is likely to provide fewer opportunities for those from Africa and the Caribbean.

Sen. Schumer's special provision for the Irish carries no stipulation that these people be employed, essentially granting them a pass from the merit-based point system.

Many high-tech companies use the H-1B visa program on the grounds that there is a shortage of skilled workers in the United States. There is evidence that this claim is specious and that employers prefer foreign workers who they can pay less and control more. The new legislation will prevent employers from holding workers hostage because their continuing employment is necessary in order to keep their visa.

The new legislation gives H-1B workers 60 days to find a new job. But why do we have H-1B visas at all? With unemployment over 7 percent, and Black unemployment in excess of 13 percent, surely there are unemployed people who could work effectively in technology companies.

Howard University economist Bill Sprigs has written that there are proportionately more African American students majoring in computer science than White. Many of these graduates cannot find jobs.