Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Democrats and Hispanics are opposed to the immigration bill's point system

Robert Pear:

Ekaterina D. Atanasova, a civil engineer from Bulgaria who lives in southern Maine, wants to bring her husband to the United States. Under the Senate immigration bill, he would get high marks — at least 74 points — because he too is a civil engineer, has a master’s degree and is fluent in English.

But Herminia Licona Sandoval, a cleaning woman from Honduras, would have no hope of bringing her 30-year-old son to the United States. He works as a driver at an oil refinery, lacks a high school diploma, speaks little English and would fare poorly under the Senate bill, earning fewer than 15 of a possible 100 points.

The point system, one of the most significant features of the Senate immigration bill, will be at the heart of the debate as Congress resumes work on the legislation after a weeklong recess. It has already stirred passions because it would profoundly change the criteria for picking future immigrants.

President Bush and some senators champion the point system as a way to select immigrants most likely to make long-term economic contributions to the United States. Supporters say it would be the most systematic effort in the nation’s history to evaluate would-be immigrants, using objective criteria to measure job skills, education and other attributes.

But the plan is provoking strong opposition from leading Democrats, who say it smacks of social engineering and reflects a class bias.

Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, said, “The point system would have prevented my own parents, a carpenter and a seamstress, from coming to this country.”

This week, the Senate is expected to vote on an amendment offered by Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, to end the point system after five years. Senators will also vote on a Republican proposal to eliminate “bonus points” that could be given to many illegal immigrants who gain legal status and then seek green cards.

The bill, written by the White House and a bipartisan group of a dozen senators, would establish “a merit-based system” to evaluate people seeking the green cards, as permanent-residence visas are known.

An applicant could receive a maximum of 100 points. Up to 75 points would be allocated for job skills and education, with 15 for English-language proficiency and 10 for family ties.

The criteria favor professionals with graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But the point system would also reward people who work in 30 “high demand” occupations, like home health care and food service.

Spouses and minor children of United States citizens would still be allowed to immigrate without limits. But siblings and adult children of citizens and lawful permanent residents would be subject to the point system. They could get a maximum of 10 points for family ties, provided they had already earned 55 points for job skills, education and English language ability.

Under the bill, Congress would set the number of points for each attribute. The selection criteria could not be changed for 14 years. Decisions on individual cases would be within the “sole and unreviewable discretion” of the secretary of homeland security.

Supporters of the point system say it would make the United States more competitive in a global economy by admitting people with skills needed in the American workplace — people who might otherwise go to work for foreign companies.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said: “America needs an immigration system that can compete for the best minds that exist in the world. The new system does it better than the old system.”

But Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, said she had found no one in her Silicon Valley district who thought it was a good idea.

“The point system is like the Soviet Union,” Ms. Lofgren said. “The government is saying, in effect, ‘We have a five-year plan for the economy, and we will decide with this point system what mix of skills is needed.’ That is not the way a market-based capitalist economy works best.”

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has also expressed “serious objection to the point system,” saying it could split families.

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