Heading into campaign season during a midterm election year, nearly all is quiet on the policy front. That does not mean however that the two parties haven’t been sniping at one another from their respective corners. This time, shots are being fired across the bow over immigration. President Obama and members the Senate have been pressing the Republican-led House to take up the bi-partisan Senate bill which passed last year. Meanwhile, GOP leaders have suggested that it is the POTUS’ rhetoric and tone that won’t get anything passed in the House. Despite the back and forth, one important group is being left out of the immigration conversation: people of African descent.
The current plan being supported by the White House and Congressional Democrats lacks any unique provisions that speak to the countless immigrants who come from the Caribbean and the continent of Africa. In the bill that passed the Senate, diversity visas, which have been a large source of African and Caribbean immigration, are scrapped in favor of merit-based visas. The difference in the visas is the diversity visas were awarded to countries with low immigration to the United States. Merit-based visas involve a point system where potential immigrants are awarded points for the work they do in the US. This is also where things seem get tricky. As expected, the bill is layered with language that emphasizes the importance of certain jobs/industries and the countries that feed them. Thus, immigrants from those countries would ostensibly receive preferential treatment in the process used to determine points for merit.
The Congressional Black Caucus has been working for nearly a year to ensure people from across the Diaspora aren’t left out of major immigration overhaul. Members of the caucus have weighed in with a broad range of opinions. Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge told April Ryan on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” that the omission of diversity visas was “one of the worst things that I could imagine.” One staffer told me that their member supports the Senate bill as a great starting point but doesn’t feel as though it addresses the particular needs of our community. This could be where the Congressional Black Caucus holds its ground. The CBC has long had the reputation of being the moral backbone of the Congress and now would be a time to ensure that. There are enough set-asides and pork projects in the bill where no one can with a straight face argue the CBC is “playing the race card” or asking for special treatment by fighting for their constituents. Caucus Members from across the country all decry the immigration bill as it is (with respect to opportunities for people from the Caribbean and Africa) and now is when members can make a stand.
House GOP leadership has not had the courage to bring the Senate immigration bill to the floor despite most observers believing it would pass if Speaker Boehner did. Further, passage of at least the Senate bill would allow advocates for Africans from across the Diaspora to have a framework from which to build. But with no movement on Speaker Boehner’s part and an even more indefatigable stance from soon-to-be unseated Majority Leader Eric Cantor, any progress to address the needs of the immigrant community are going ignored. Democrats should use this time to strengthen the existing bill and allow access to underrepresented immigrant communities. Africans and people from the Caribbean who want to immigrate to the United States should have all the same opportunities as men and women from Europe and other parts of the world. The immigration visa policy in the Senate bill as it is constituted now is only merit based in name. It plays favorites and chooses winners and losers. In this case, the losers in the merit based visas are people of color. That is unacceptable and is where government has to step in.
Sadly however, in an election year and with a month long recess approaching in August the chances of any legislation being brought to the floor seems slim. The piecemeal approach being suggested by some Republicans don’t get at important questions of pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 Million undocumented immigrants, and doesn’t begin to address the question of diversity visas/merit based visas that are troubling to immigrants of African descent. The growing number of Hispanic voters will ensure that sooner or later both parties will see to it that immigration reform happens. The important question is to make sure Africans from the diaspora aren’t left out of the conversation when it does.