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After the strong turn-out of Hispanics in the presidential election, both parties are making immigration a priority, and it's a Republican-sponsored bill that goes up for a vote today in the House. It would reform this country's visa program.
Yesterday I reached at his office on Capitol Hill Representative Raul Labrador. He's a Republican from Idaho and one of the members of Congress who introduced today's bill. It's called the STEM Jobs Act. That's S-T-E-M, for science, technology, engineering and math.
REPRESENTATIVE RAUL LABRADOR: What the bill does is it allows people that are here legally, that are getting postgraduate degrees in these four areas, to stay in the United States and to get their green cards. What we are doing right now is we're educating these individuals that want to contribute to our society, but when they realize that it's going to take them between six and 15 years to get a green card, they actually either go back to their home country, or worse, they go to Canada and they become our competitors, you know, in our neighboring country.
MONTAGNE: Well, one of the objections - I gather - that's being put forth by Democrats is that this bill would shut down another visa program, which would bring in more immigrants from places like Africa, who - and places that don't send too many immigrants to the U.S. Why not keep both programs?
LABRADOR: Because the Diversity Visa doesn't make any sense for the United States for the promise that we have today. We need high skilled workers. The Diversity Visa actually gives 55,000 visas to just people who go through a lottery. And it doesn't make any sense to hand out 55,000 visas to, you know, just by random.
MONTAGNE: What was the purpose of it in the first place? I mean the people who get these visas are obviously pretty excited about it.
LABRADOR: Yeah. The problem you have is that the Democrats really don't want to solve the immigration problem. This is really what this is all about. The president just came out and he said that he does not support this bill because it is not part of a comprehensive immigration reform plan. If we do a comprehensive package, what you're going to have is a bill that every single member of Congress hates a certain aspect of it and no one is going to vote for. Let's start with the easiest thing first and then we can move forward and do more and more difficult things. If we don't do it this way, it's never going to get done. The Democrats will continue to have something to kick Republicans about, and the reality is that they don't want to solve this problem, they just want to have a political issue that they can hit us over the head every two years.
MONTAGNE: If you were talking about doing immigration reform in pieces, let's talk about the Dream Act...
MONTAGNE: ...which we've now all heard about - giving legal status to young people brought in as children illegally by their parents. Now, Republicans have kept that from becoming law for years. What would it take now to pass the Dream Act?
LABRADOR: That's an example. That should be the next thing we work on. And as you know, John Kyle and Kay Bailey Hutchinson just submitted a bill in the Senate, and I think that's a good approach. And I think we should do something about these young kids that came here through no fault of their own, and I think a large majority of the Republican conference agrees with me.
MONTAGNE: What would be the Republican version of the Dream Act the Democrats aren't going to like? For instance, does the Republican version have no path to citizenship?
LABRADOR: You know, the version that was submitted has no pathway to citizenship, but it gives them an opportunity to be here legally so they don't have to worry about deportation, they don't have to be worried about not being able to go to college, they don't have to be worried about not being able to work. So it's a good solution to the problem that we have right now.
MONTAGNE: Now, you also support a guest worker programs for low skilled workers...
MONTAGNE: ...mainly in agricultural. Would that involve any illegal immigrants who are already here in this country? Which is the big issue.
LABRADOR: You know, and I think that would be the solution - to create the guest worker program that we can actually allow the people that are here illegally to apply for that guest worker program - again, without a pathway to citizenship, but in a way that treats these people with dignity and humanity.
MONTAGNE: Let me, though, turn that around. Are Republicans against a path to citizenship because they think if these immigrants become citizens, they will be Democrats?
LABRADOR: No. The Republicans are against the path to citizenship because we don't believe that people who committed illegal acts should be rewarded with the greatest gift that we have, which is citizenship. I actually believe that most of these immigrants, if they do it the right way, if they play by the rules, they're actually going to vote Republican. And if we can find a way for these people to be treated in a fair way, if we can find a way for them to come to stay in the United States, why not do it, and why stick to something that not everybody agrees with?
MONTAGNE: Congressman Raul Labrador is a Republican from Idaho. Thanks very much for joining us.
LABRADOR: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.