An immigration bill that would have abolished per-country caps on green cards was pulled from the House floor ahead of a vote on the legislation Wednesday evening marking a significant win for immigration hawks.
The Equal Access to Green Cards for Legal Employment (EAGLE) Act would remove per-country caps on the numbers of employment-based green cards as a way to end a historic backlog. The legislation would also increase the cap on family-based visas from 7% to 15%.
Most employment-based green cards are sought by workers already in the U.S. on temporary visas. But due to the large number of Chinese and Indian nationals brought in by U.S. companies on those visas, nationals from those two countries face the longest backlogs.
The legislation had bipartisan support in the House and backing from Big Tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Intel that had called per-country caps “unfair” and said they had contributed to the backlog.
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“We are proud to support the EAGLE Act and are continuing to advocate for commonsense immigration reform on behalf of our employees and their families.,” Amazon said in a statement. “We urge Congress to pass the #EAGLEAct, lifting unfair per-country visa caps for employment-based green cards.”
Immigration hawks had lobbied hard against the bill, arguing it would lead to Indian and Chinese nationals dominating the immigration system and encouraging more applications. They also raised concerns about national security related to possible exploitation by the Chinese government.
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The bill had also picked up bipartisan opposition in the chamber. Republican leadership had recommended against voting for the bill, while some Democrats had expressed their opposition to the measure.
Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., warned in a letter to members of the Congressional Black Caucus that eliminating the country caps without a corresponding increase in visas would “result in a dearth of immigration opportunities for hopeful migrants outside these nations, with particular concern for those from African and Caribbean nations.”
“This legislation comes up short in my estimation and I cannot support efforts that would perpetuate the current inequalities in our immigration system. I believe we can do better,” she wrote.
With few if any Republican votes and a split in the Democratic caucus, a number of votes were scheduled for the votes in the lame duck session before Republicans take control of the chamber on Jan. 3, but they were repeatedly postponed.
On Wednesday, Democratic leadership announced that further consideration of the bill had been postponed, and the House was no longer expected to vote on the measure.
The announcement was greeted with delight by groups calling for lower immigration. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which had been aggressive in lobbying lawmakers on the Hill against the bill, said it was “encouraging that support for such an ill-conceived and dangerous bill waned among lawmakers in both parties — especially the GOP.”
“This is another step toward becoming a unified party focused not only on ending the unprecedented wave of illegal immigration, but also legal programs that have a disastrous impact on American workers,” RJ Hauman, head of government relations at FAIR, said in a statement.
“Not only would enactment of the EAGLE Act harm American workers and result in even less immigration diversity, it would threaten vital national security and economic interests.”
Ryan Walker, vice president of government relations at Heritage Action, which had sounded the alarm about a national security threat from China, called the bill’s defeat a “significant victory for the conservative grassroots community” but added that it was “only the first step.”
“In the next Congress, the American people want to see their representatives in Congress taking real measures to secure the border, hold the CCP accountable for espionage and IP theft and prioritize American workers,” he said. “Heritage Action looks forward to helping them achieve that goal.”
Some Democrats and immigration activists expressed disappointment and called on Democratic leadership to continue with the bill and hold a vote.
Immigration Voice urged supporters to call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and “demand that she return [the bill] to floor for vote today.”
“Be clear – her legacy’ll be ruined by her choice to maintain discrimination unless she reverses course today & schedules the bill for a vote. No day’ll pass without us reminding her,” the group said in a tweet.
In a letter to Pelosi reported by Roll Call, sponsor Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., called the legislation a “small and important step forward” and urged her to reconsider.
“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.”
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