GOLDEN GATE — Anticipated movement on immigration reform may come this week in the latest round of “will-they-or-won’t-they” since a group of U.S. senators announced efforts in late January to overhaul the sytem.
No date has been set yet for the release of the bill, however more details are expected after the congressional Easter and Passover recess, which ends this weekend.
If the so-called “Gang of Eight” U.S. senators wants to take the lead in announcing proposals, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami — who is working on a similar bill in the House of Representatives — said Saturday they are welcome to do so.
“We’re more concerned in the House to get it right than to do it fast,” the congressman said during a Collier County event.
After a meet-and-greet with about 40 constituents at the Golden Gate Community Center that focused largely on gun-control (mental health is the issue at hand, not restricting guns, he said) and the national budget (he cites federal overspending) Diaz-Balart said a House immigration reform proposal isn’t ready yet.
“It’s got to be done this year, so we don’t have a lot of time, but we’re not ready to do something right now. We’re getting closer and closer,” said Diaz-Balart, whose district includes eastern Collier County.
He demurred on the timeline for announcing the bill. Sticking points include how to deal with agricultural and other so-called “low-skilled” workers.
If the House passes the proposed legislation, even in the best-case scenario the conference committee to resolve discrepancies with the U.S. Senate’s version of the bill “is going to be a bear. As tough as it is for House Republicans and Democrats to agree on anything, or the Senate to do that, when you get them all together it’s even more difficult,” the congressman said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote in a letter to fellow senators last week that the Gang of Eight’s proposal — to which he is contributing — “will be a starting point.”
Like Diaz-Balart, he stressed the importance of hearings to tweak the bill once it is made public. He is expected to brief Senate Republicans on the bill in the coming week.
Major differences between the House and Senate reform bills could include how a path to citizenship is reached and how long it takes, as well as how guest worker visas are revamped.
Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it has received more than 85,000 applications from employers seeking visas for computer programmers, engineers, physicians and other educated workers with specialized skills. Of the total visas, 20,000 are set aside for people with graduate degrees from American universities.
Because the 85,000 limit was exceeded within five days of the April 1 opening date, a lottery will be held to distribute the visas.
A superstar software engineer sponsored by Microsoft has the same chance of landing an H-1B visa as does a person hoping to work for a lesser-known company.
“It basically shows the main problem of this system, which is that there’s no way of prioritizing. When this takes place, it’ll cause a big frenzy,” said Neil Ruiz, an associate fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit think tank.
Last year, the cap was reached in slightly more than two months. As the country emerged from recession in 2010, the cap wasn’t reached for 10 months. The last time a lottery was used was 2008.
__ The Associated Press contributed to this report.