Why the 'Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants' bill is a dangerous compromise

South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT, members protesting before the White House. Despite the bill’s potential harm to thousands of immigrants, Immigration Voice, an Indian-American nonprofit advocacy organization made up of mostly Indian workers in the tech industry, below, from California and Utah (states with the largest tech sectors), has been aggressively pushing for the passage of the bill, the author alleges.

There is no question that our immigration system is deeply flawed, unequal, and inhumane. The latest manifestation of this is the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants” bill that aims to address the massive green card backlog impacting hundreds of thousands of immigrants. Despite its innocuous name, the bill is anything but fair and would benefit one group at the expense of thousands of immigrants.

The “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” which passed the House and is now before the Senate, would lift the 7% per country cap and redistribute green cards by application date rather than country of origin. Sounds harmless right?

It’s not. If enacted, countries like India, who have a much larger demand for green cards, would be favored. Many of those trapped in the green card backlog are Indian nationals because the current policy distributes an artificially capped number of 140,000 employment-based green cards per year with a 7% cap per country. Not all countries meet this cap and those visas end up going where there is the greatest demand, which most often is to Indian nationals. But the line for a green card remains endless.

If the bill is enacted, countries with a lower demand for green cards, like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal will experience much higher wait times - up to 17 years.

The bill would also make life harder for those whose immigration status is already vulnerable because of this administration’s discriminatory policies. It would essentially close the door on people already impacted by the Muslim Ban – people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela. And those with vulnerable status like DACA and Temporary Protected Status, would lose an opportunity to remain in the country through employment-based visas.

Despite the bill’s potential harm to thousands of immigrants, Immigration Voice, an Indian-American nonprofit advocacy organization made up of mostly Indian workers in the tech industry from California and Utah (states with the largest tech sectors), has been aggressively pushing for the passage of the bill.

Why? In their words they “represent 130,000 tax-paying and law-abiding highly-skilled-immigrants who live and work in the United States.” They believe that they are the “model minority” and deserve to be at the front of the line even if it means at the expense of other immigrant communities. They play to both sides, stating that “Republicans should not need to violate their core principles and double or triple the total number of green cards,” and at the same time appealing to Democrats by pushing this as pro-immigrant legislation.

This “moderate” approach of wanting to appear favorable on immigration, but not actually increase immigration numbers is dangerous. It ends up benefitting only the most powerful individuals and industries. Disturbingly, this is also why the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act” has such significant bi-partisan support.

Prioritizing profits over people is not new. Our nation’s immigration system has been broken and unjust for centuries: from enslavement to forced migration and displacement to discriminatory quotas based on country of origin to the present day. Today, deportations have rapidly increased, the border has become militarized, citizens are being denaturalized, and authorized immigrants are aging out their visas, being denied work authorization, and unable to obtain green cards. A consistent theme in U.S. history is the exploitation of immigrant labor for profit. The constituents of Immigration Voice are workers of the powerful tech industry and the bill has unsurprisingly garnered support from elected officials from California and Utah, states with the largest tech sectors. The bi-partisan motivation to pass this bill is clear: keep labor costs low and profits high.

This is wrong. The only way forward is to unite and advocate for policies that uplift ALL of us, just like the DREAMers did when they banded together and made it clear they were unwilling to sacrifice any other group of immigrants to win, all while facing the threat of deportation themselves every day. They successfully won over 75% of the American public and Members of Congress, who supported them remaining in the country with a path toward citizenship through legislation known as the DREAM and PROMISE Act, which passed the House this year. That’s the kind of leadership we must follow to find ways to jointly address the problems facing authorized and unauthorized immigrants instead of insisting that some go to the back of the line.

In that spirit, we joined National Iranian American Council, United We Dream, and United Chinese Americans in circulating a coalition letter to the Senate with 25 national and local organizations opposing the bill last week and advocating for the only fair solution - an increase in the overall number of green cards.

This week, following a Unanimous Consent motion that was blocked just before the Congressional recess, Senators Durbin and Leahy introduced the RELIEF Act. This alternative legislation would quickly alleviate the backlog by raising the overall number of green cards, eliminating the need for an inequitable redistribution. It would allow green card applicants and their family members to immediately acquire green cards.

While the “RELIEF Act” will fairly resolve the employment-based green card backlog, the long-term solution is “The Reuniting Families Act,” which was introduced in the House this year. It would improve our family-based immigration system, reunite and keep families together, clear the family-based backlogs and eliminate the country caps in both family and employment-based visas.

At a time when the administration is attacking immigrants from all directions, we must advocate for solutions that strengthen and unite rather than divide our immigrant communities. That’s what real fairness looks like.

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Lakshmi Sridaran is the Interim Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).

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