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Green Card Backlog Unlikely to Get Senate Hearing, Durbin Says

Nov. 7, 2019, 7:38 PM

Democratic lawmakers pushing for a hearing on several proposals to address the backlog of high-skill employment visas doubt they’ll get what they want.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters Nov. 7 that discussions are underway with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the sponsor of a bipartisan measure to eliminate per-country caps on employment-based green cards. But the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary’s Border Security and Immigration Subcommittee said he doesn’t anticipate a broader debate of immigration proposals from Lee or those introduced by several Democrats.

“He refuses a hearing,” Durbin said after speaking at an event hosted by the National Immigration Forum. “This is so unusual for a senator to say, ‘I don’t want a hearing on my bill.’ We should have one, because I think there are some areas where we could find agreement, there are some areas of real disagreement.”

Democrats on the subcommittee sent a letter to Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) Oct. 30 asking to hear from “experts and impacted communities” on legislation that “meaningfully and thoughtfully addresses green card backlogs.” The letter followed several attempts by Lee to hold a vote on his bill (S. 386). Lee’s latest attempt at a floor vote was blocked Oct. 17 by Durbin, who a day earlier had introduced his own bill (S. 2603) to tackle the backlog.

“I’ve objected to it, but I’m not the only one—there are Republican senators objecting as well,” Durbin said. “It comes down to the basic question of whether we raise the number of legal immigrants who would be allowed to get green cards each year. It’s 140,000 now, and that’s not adequate.”

A spokesman for Cornyn said discussions continue, but “if Senator Durbin truly wants to solve this problem he’ll stop blocking the sensible, bipartisan bill cosponsored by 15 of his fellow Democrats,” referring to Lee’s bill.

Path Forward Unclear

Advocates for Lee’s more narrow proposal say it’s a matter of fairness to the immigrants who otherwise might not see green cards in their lifetime solely because of their place of birth. The narrow scope of the legislation presents the best chance of making it through Congress.

Lee’s measure would provide a faster path to a green card for thousands of mostly Indian skilled workers who’ve been stuck in a visa backlog that’s projected to last decades.

A representative from Lee’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Opponents say the bill would unfairly impact non-Indian immigrants, and that it would be better to increase green card numbers so that nobody has to wait years to receive one.

Durbin’s Relief Act would raise the cap, instead of eliminating country caps altogether, “so that we will have more people come in, with green cards, each year,” he said. About 800,000 individuals are awaiting green cards, and 500,000 of them are Indian, he added.

Durbin said he’s blocking the vote on Lee’s measure because while the legislation will take care of the backlog for immigrants from India, it does so “at the expense of every other country.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com