Immigrants — or even would-be immigrants — are often portrayed these days as glorious, deserving of special treatment. This came up recently, for instance, in an NPR report on the City of Baltimore’s efforts to clamp down on the plethora of liquor stores in impoverished districts. The lawyer representing the store owners argued against the proposal, on the grounds that the owners are immigrants, which in the lawyer’s view somehow makes it OK.
As one who has lived in immigrant households and communities all his life, I am rather pleased by all this positive attention. But it’s gone way too far, resulting in absurd statements like the one made by the attorney above.
Nowhere is this glorification of immigrants more intense than for foreign students studying STEM at U.S. universities, who the government fervently hopes will become immigants. We saw that today, with Donald Trump’s sudden switch on the skilled-immigration issue, clarifying that he thinks we should make all-out efforts to attract and retain those students.
So Trump’s claimed sympathy for the middle class has proved hollow. But Trump is hardly alone in his view; on the contrary, it’s thoroughly mainstream in DC. (Which dramatizes the point that under a President Trump, it would be “business as usual” in terms of foreign tech workers.) This is why, for instance, both the (George W.) Bush and Obama administrations have been so anxious to expand the OPT program, giving foreign students temporary work rights after graduation. More on this below, but the point is that it is considered a “must” in DC that we grab these students.
I’ve written in a previous blog:
Moreover, what is more disturbing is that many in DC see the green card programs as a way to “steal” STEM workers from China. I had heard rumors of this for years, but still was taken aback when they were confirmed at a talk at Georgetown University I gave a few years ago on the quality of the foreign STEM students in the U.S. An attendee came up to me afterward, and turned out to be a young green card case adjudicator at USCIS. He said something close to this: “I don’t see what the fuss is about. My understanding is that our mission is to grab STEM students away from China. The quality doesn’t matter.”
This attitude is silly, as only a small portion of STEM students in China are coming here, but it certainly illustrates the thinking prevalent in our nation’s capital. Pres. Obama has stated repeatedly that a priority is to retain the foreign students.
Accordingly, the administration is not going to take its recent legal setback on OPT lying down, nor will its allies in the tech industry, immigration attorney community and so on. The court found that the DHS had not gone far enough to vet with the public its 2008 extension of OPT from 12 to 29 months. The court gave DHS until February 2016 to properly collect public comment. I predicted that the interest groups supporting the extension would flood the DHS on its public comment site, and sure enough, a petition to retain the extension has gathered 50,000 signatures in just a few days. Those opposed to the extension could be rather numerous too, but they are unorganized and many fear blacklisting by employers.
In other words, DHS will have no problem justifying the extension, citing “popular demand.” Of course, most of the signatures will likely be the foreign students themselves, who have always been easily mobilized for issues like this, but this won’t matter to DHS.
So, the images conjured up of tens of thousands of OPT students suddenly dragged out of their U.S. jobs and shipped home make for good press, but this just ain’t going to happen. The government will do anything to keep them here, and it will have plenty of powerful allies in that.
John Miano, the programmer turned savvy lawyer who is leading the court battle to overturn the OPT extension, notes that even with tens of thousands of people imploring DHS to retain the extension, it may not be so easy for DHS to comply with the court’s decision. I’m rooting for Miano, but you can bet that DHS will treat this as a “must win” situation, and will go to herculean efforts to thwart Miano. Once again, it will at least make for good theater.
Personally, I’ve always believed that legislation — in this case quasi-legislation (a court decision) overturning other quasi-legislation (DHS actions that usurped Congress’ right to make the laws) — should grandfather existing beneficiaries. But OPT should be returned to its original 12-month duration, and absolutely should not be extended to 6 years, as currently proposed by the Obama people.