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An Overture To Latinos, GOP-Controlled House Passes Immigration Bill

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), speaks at the Conservative Political Action conference in February.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), speaks at the Conservative Political Action conference in February.

One of the big questions that arose out of the November general election is how Republicans would pivot to close the astonishing gap in the Latino vote.

Hispanics voted for President Obama instead of Gov. Mitt Romney by a 71-to-27 percent margin. That kind of lopsided result immeditately changed the minds of many Republicans on immigration reform.

Today, Republicans in the House made their first legislative overture to the community when they passed the STEM Jobs Act, a bill that ditches a program that issues 55,000 permanent residency visas by lottery, but automatically hands a permanent visa to immigrants working toward an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

NPR's Renee Montagne spoke to Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican from Idaho, and one of the supporters of the bill.

He said this bill is a step toward achieving comprehensive immigration reform. He said Democrats don't support the bill because "Democrats don't want to solve the immigration problem."

Labrador said this bill keeps productive immigrants in the country.

Fox News Latino reports that while some Democrats joined in the 257 to 158 vote, most, including President Obama, oppose the measure because it gets rid of the Diversity Visa Program.

Fox News explains:

"About half of those visas go to Africa nations. Democrats said this "zero sum game" on the number of visas granted was unacceptable.

"'It pains me greatly that I cannot support this bill,' said Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, whose northern California district includes many high-tech companies that for years have pushed for STEM visas so that they can hire the highly trained foreign scientists and engineers who now are forced to leave the country and find jobs with U.S. competitors.

"She said the bill would eventually result in fewer visas issued because far fewer than 50,000 degrees are given every year to foreigners in eligible STEM fields, and the bill does not allow unused visas to be transferred to other programs."

Renee asked Labrador why start here, why not instead pass the DREAM Act, which would give younger illegal immigrants legal status.

"That should be the next thing we work on," he said, adding that he thinks immigration reform should be taken piece-by-piece instead of trying to pass a huge bill that nobody's happy with.

Renee went on to ask Labrador about another sticking point: Republicans have insisted in their version of the DREAM Act and in other legislation that there be no path to citizenship.

Renee asked why and she asked it was because Republicans thought if those immigrants become citizens they would go on to vote for Democrats.

Labrador dismissed the notion.

"We don't believe that people who committed illegal acts should be rewarded with the greatest gift that we have — and that's citizenship," Labrador said.

The STEM Jobs Act, by the way, will likely die here, because the Democratically-controlled Senate is unlikely to pick it up.

Correction at 1:43 p.m. ET. An earlier version of this post misidentified Rep. Labrador as representing Iowa. He is a representative from Idaho.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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