After Flurry Of GOP Amendments, Judiciary Subpanel Moves Visa Measure

After Flurry Of GOP Amendments, Judiciary Subpanel Moves Visa Measure

By David Hess
The National Journal, August 1, 2008

Washington, DC — A bill to recapture about a half million unused visa requests was approved and moved up the line to full committee Friday by the House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee, after majority Democrats staved off a barrage of Republican amendments Thursday night to cap immigration numbers and categories.

The final vote on the bill (H.R. 5882) was 8-1, [Vote 7] with 7 members not voting came early today.

The vote was held open Thursday after the committee voted 6-1 on an initial roll call to report the bill [Vote 6] favorably to its parent panel. The subcommittee spent hours in a markup session tilting lances over repeated efforts by ranking member Steve King, R-Iowa, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to effectively rewrite immigration law with strict quotas on entry into the United States along with sweeping changes in the way immigrant categories are treated.

Democrats responded to the bulk of the GOP amendments by systematically ruling them out of order on grounds of non-germaneness. In all, 10 amendments were denied roll call votes by subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren's germaneness edicts. Even so, King and his allies managed to press their overarching point that, as King put it, 'too many aliens are getting into this country each year' and too few of them are bringing intellectual and vocational skills that benefit the economy.

At one point, King offered an amendment that would have imposed a firm cap of one million green cards a year on alien entries to the United States. It was sidetracked on germaneness grounds.

The bill itself, which has drawn support from a number of other Republicans, including F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the ranking member of the full Judiciary Committee, focuses on a single matter. It would provide that all unused visa applications from fiscal years 1992 through 2007 would be lumped together and re-offered to would-be green card applicants. The bill estimates that between 226,000 and 480,000 immigrants would be eligible for admission under this approach. King insisted that the number would be closer to 557,000.

Whatever the exact number, Goodlatte complained that the recapture process would swamp an already overtaxed immigration agency, then offered an amendment that he said 'would smooth out the flow of recaptured visas' by spreading their issuance over the next 15 years. He was particularly supportive of ramping up the number of work visas for H-1(b) applicants prized by American businesses facing shortages of skilled workers and laborers. His amendment was rejected by a party-line 6-2 margin [Vote 1], after Democrats argued that the bill was not meant to alter existing immigration ratios and categories but rather to deal only with 'unused visa numbers that were not issued because of bureaucratic delays or mistakes,' according to Lofgren.

A King amendment to eliminate visas set aside for bringing non-nuclear family members into the United States was defeated, 6-1 [Vote 2]. King also lost, 9-1 [Vote 3], on an amendment to lower the number of unused visas that could be recaptured. And he was thwarted on a bid to limit visas only to those immigrants with college degrees by a 7-1 margin [Vote 4]. Then his amendment to limit visas to immigrants under the age of 40 years was rejected, 7-1 [Vote 5]. All of those votes split along party lines.