The Huddled Masses vs. the Best & the Brightest

By David North, September 25, 2012

You might say that there are two streams of potential migrants to the United States that are often in at least partial conflict with each other for visa slots — the "huddled masses" and the "best and the brightest" — and the more-migration people are always busy trying to blur or hide that conflict.

This contest takes place within a 90-year-old American consensus that says that most immigration should be numerically controlled — so unlimited admissions of both the huddled and of the bright is not the answer, either.

All that played out last week on the floor of the House of Representatives when the advocates of the Best and Brightest (B&B) were blocked by the Huddled Masses (HM) people, though the conflict was not reported in quite those terms.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) brought forth a bill that would have granted green cards to aliens who have secured advanced degrees in high tech subjects in U.S. universities (a B&B population); his notion was that the 55,000 visas now devoted to (or wasted on) the visa lottery be used, instead, by a similarly sized group who have degrees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

The parliamentary situation was not the best, as Smith's bill needed a two-thirds floor vote to be considered on an emergency basis. It got a substantial majority (257 to 158), but not the margin needed. Had the bill or a similar one been introduced earlier in the session, under normal circumstances, it is highly likely that it would have passed the House, but still would have faced problems in the Senate.

The Democrats who opposed the bill had no objections, generally, with the admission of more aliens with high-tech degrees, but they did not like the prospect of losing the admissions of the visa lottery winners, who include large numbers of people from Africa and South America. Various black, Asian, and Latino members spoke up in defense of the visa lottery and thus against the Smith bill.

An effort by the Democrats, notably Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), to get a vote on retaining the visa lottery and granting the extra green cards to STEM graduates, was blocked by the Republican leadership, so the status remains quo.

Meanwhile, exploitative employers — who wanted the additional STEM graduates and did not care about the diversity visa holders — were stymied. Giving more green cards to high-tech grads floods that labor market, which employers like, but continuing the diversity visa does not do much good for employers for two reasons: the diversity winners are not tied to any employer and they are scattered so thinly over the nation that they do not have a discernible impact on any given labor market.

It is always a minor relief when things do not get worse, as happened in this case, and it is always fun to see the other side bicker when they might be coalescing against us.