Today, the US Senate is voting on whether or not to proceed with a debate about an immigration bill that would have significant ramifications for the tech industry, including raising the cap on the number of high-skilled immigrants allowed in the country and establishing a “startup visa” for foreign entrepreneurs. It would also provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants while tightening border security.
This morning, President Obama spoke in support of the comprehensive bill, calling it a commonsense fix for a broken system. However, its passage into legislation is far from certain. First, it has to clear the Senate with 60 votes, which is the number needed to overcome a Republican-instituted filibuster, a previously extraordinary legislative maneuver that has now become routine.
To that end, the bill needs the support of numerous Republicans, many of which appear to be wavering in public. One prominent figure is Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), whose amendment to the bill would make it impossible for immigrants to apply for green cards until the US has achieved “100 percent border surveillance, or situational awareness, of each one-mile segment of the Southern border” – which is, you know, a tough ask.
However, even if the bill does get through Senate – and it looks like it might have the numbers to at least scrape through by July 4 – it will face a stiffer challenge in the House, where Republicans, because of redistricting that means they have strong footholds in their districts, feel their seats are less threatened and may have more to lose by supporting immigration reform. It’s possible the House will try to break the comprehensive bill into pieces, separating the tech industry-friendly elements from the low-skill and illegal parts, even though President Obama has expressly said he would not support such an approach.
So complicated! And so uncertain. But oh so important.
It’s convenient, then, that this morning I moderated a Google Hangout panel discussion on immigration with some key figures on the advocacy side for the tech industry. To get up to speed on the debate, especially from a tech industry perspective, you could do no better than watch this 35-minute video. The discussion features Jeremy Robbins, director of Partnership for a New American Economy; Michael McGeary, director of Engine Advocacy; Ali Noorani, executive director National Immigration Forum; and Marinah von Schlagel, managing director at Chicago-based tech incubator Cibola.