Tech Experts: Immigration Reform Needs To Happen

PHOTO: A man multitasks at an office.

The United States needs more high-level scientists and engineers, according to technology experts. That's why they're pushing for immigration reform as a way to educate and retain the most talented workers in the world.

But how that reform should happen -- in one big piece of legislation or in a series of small bills -- is fueling debate on Capitol Hill.

While lawmakers in Congress agree that reform should be a priority, the comprehensive package that the White House and top Democrats are pushing has House Republicans worried that it will turn into "amnesty" -- a dirty word in their playbook -- and provide a mass legalization for undocumented immigrants.

See Also: Immigration Group Bashes Deferred Action

"Comprehensive has become a code word for amnesty," Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said during a Tuesday morning panel on immigration and technology hosted by Politico.

Chaffetz, joined by Republican Representative Raúl Labrador of Idaho, said he prefers the "piecemeal" approach to reform.

"I don't think it should be comprehensive," Labrador added, because "every member [of Congress] will find something flawed" in one wide-ranging bill.

Labrador supports a series of immigration bills that tackle specific, narrow issues, such as how to handle visas for experts in science, technology, engineering and math, what are called STEM visas. He said he wants the House of Representatives to vote on all immigration proposals, as many as five or six of them, together.

But Zoe Lofgren (D-California), who also attended the Politico event, thinks one comprehensive bill makes more sense. She says Democrats are waiting "for a signal" from House Speaker John Boehner that he's open to the comprehensive immigration reform he mentioned in a speech shortly after President Obama's reelection.

If Republicans such as Lamar Smith (R-Texas) continue to set the GOP immigration agenda, she said, "we're going nowhere fast."

Smith favors tighter enforcement of current immigration laws and opposes programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants two-year deportation reprieves to some undocumented young people. He joined other restrictionists in blasting DACA at a panel hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies, a D.C.-based think tank, on Monday.

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