In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California expressed her “great disappointment” over the decision to withdraw her legislation to raise the cap on green cards from consideration on the House floor. This was the latest immigration attempt to fail in the final weeks of the year.
The bill is “a small and important step forward” to overhaul the legal immigration system for the first time in decades, according to Lofgren, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel. To reduce lengthy backlogs, it would gradually eliminate per-country limits on green cards based on employment.
In the letter, Lofgren stated that it was crucial to ease the suffering of those who were most affected by the long-standing backlog of immigrant visas.
After several false starts and postponements, the bill was finally taken off the schedule, which was a sign that the Democratic Caucus’s support was less certain. The bill was formally removed from the agenda on Wednesday night despite being discussed and set for a vote on the House floor on Tuesday.
The bill was dropped because it lacked the support necessary to pass, according to a member of the House Democratic leadership on Thursday.
In the letter, Lofgren pleaded with Pelosi to change her mind and schedule another vote on the bill “as soon as possible.”
The so-called EAGLE Act would raise the annual cap on family-based green cards from 7 percent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 percent and gradually eliminate the annual limits on employment-based green cards allotted to citizens of any one particular country over a nine-year period.
Due to these restrictions, citizens of some countries have been forced to wait on the green card waitlist for years or even decades. The annual cap on employment-based green cards is 140,000; the annual cap on certain categories of family-based green cards is approximately 25,000,000.
Green card applicants from China and India, two nations that have sent more foreign nationals in high-skilled visa categories than can be accommodated by the caps, have been disproportionately impacted by the employment-based caps. The family-based caps most affect applicants from Mexico.
However, the bill, which received substantial bipartisan support only a few years ago, has proven to be contentious even among Democrats and supporters of immigrants.
A previous version of the legislation, the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, was approved by the House in 2019 with 224 votes from Democrats and 140 votes from Republicans.
With some modifications, the Senate also approved it in December 2020, but the two chambers were unable to come to an agreement before the year was out.
However, the version from this year has received much less bipartisan support.
The majority of green cards will go to applicants from China and India at the expense of applicants from other countries, according to critics of the bill who have warned that eliminating the per-country caps and processing green card applications in order of receipt will have this effect.
Similar worries have been raised by Democrats. In a letter to her Congressional Black Caucus colleagues earlier this month, Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, D-New York, expressed concern that prospective immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean would be forced to leave the country if country-based visa caps were removed without an increase in the total number of visas available.
Another version has been proposed by Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin, who also serves as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration legislation, and would do away with per-country caps while increasing the total number of available green cards. In order to accomplish this, Durbin’s bill would stop counting dependents, such as minor children of visa applicants, when calculating the overall cap.
The bill is also opposed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which promotes immigration-friendly policies. While the group supports lifting the per-country cap, it claimed that the EAGLE Act “fails to strike the right balance” in removing per-country restrictions without having a negative impact on others.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a former worker visa holder, said there is “still conversation about getting it to the floor” in a brief interview on Thursday. She attributed opposition to the bill to a “misunderstanding that somehow this is negative for certain communities.”