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Tea Party holds US to ransom on immigration

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In June 2013, the US Senate passed an immigration reform bill; the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act 2013. The bill contained proposals for comprehensive reform of the US's immigration system which is commonly said to be 'broken'.

If it ever becomes law, the Act will

  • Create a 'pathway to citizenship' for illegal residents. To join the 'pathway', they would have to pay a $500 fine, learn English and pay back taxes
  • Increase the annual number of H-1B temporary skilled work visas' from 85,000 to over 150,000 annually. This figure could rise above 200,000 if demand was high over several years
  • Increase the cost of L-1 and H-1B visas for firms which had a high proportion of staff in the US with these visas
  • Allow an unlimited number of graduates from US universities with higher degrees to apply for green cards (as US permanent resident visas are called)
  • Increase spending on border security by $4.5bn over the next four years
  • Abolish country quotas for US employment based green cards. Even if this happens there are no proposals to change the overall quota. Therefore processing times could still be some years.

'Pathway to citizenship'

But the Act is not likely to become law. This is because of the proposed 'pathway to citizenship' in the reform bill; an issue on which the Republicans and the Democrats cannot agree.

Both parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, accept that changes to the system are necessary. People in both parties accept that there should be a greater emphasis in the US system on employment-based immigration. The US has one of the lowest percentage of immigrants who enter on employment based immigrant visas in the developed world.

In 2013, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD) said that only 6% of US immigrants in 2010 and in 2011 were in employment based visa categories. In Canada and Australia, this figure is much closer to 26%.

Republicans and Democrats disagree on pathway

But on the issue of the pathway to citizenship, the two parties are fundamentally opposed to each other.

There are 11.5m illegal residents in the US. Many of them have been there for many years. It is believed that 80% of them are of Hispanic ethnicity and come from Latin America. Over half of them are believed to be Mexican.

At the last presidential election in November 2012, President Obama promised that, if re-elected, he would act to establish a pathway to citizenship. His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, promised, instead, to make life so difficult for illegal residents that they would 'self-deport'. That is, they would leave the country voluntarily.

Hispanic voters opposed 'self-deportation'

This policy was extremely unpopular with US citizens of Hispanic descent. Over 70% of them voted for President Obama. The polls show that this was more than enough votes to win the election for the President. About 11m Hispanic voters voted in the election.

8m of these voted for the president. 3m voted for Mr Romney. Mr Obama won the election by around 2m votes.

But polls show that the 'self-deportation' policy is also unpopular with other US citizens too. A recent poll conducted fr Dox News showed that 80% of Americans support the establishment of a pathway to citizenship for illegal residents who learn to speak English and pay a sum to compensate for any tax they failed to pay while working illegally (if necessary).

Many Republicans support the 'pathway'

Indeed, polls show that many Republicans support the 'pathway'. A poll by the Chicago Council showed that 75% of Republican businessmen in the Chicago area support the establishment of a pathway. Many influential business organisations, including the US Chamber of Commerce, which usually supports Republican candidates at presidential elections, support the pathway.

Businessmen such as Warren Buffett, the world's most successful investor and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook are also supporting reform.

So if 80% of people support the reform, along with business and many churches, what is the problem? The problem is that the US political process has, to some extent, been hijacked by a tiny, but extremely vocal, minority.

Tea Party

This is The Tea Party movement. The Tea Party is a loose association of right wing, anti-government ideologues. They dislike tax and 'big government'. They rose to prominence at about the time that President Obama was first elected.

Many of them are members of the 'birther' movement. Birthers believe that President Obama was not born in the US and is, therefore barred from being President. They believe that Mr Obama forged his Hawaiian birth certificate.

The Tea Party is overwhelmingly white (96%), and religious; 97% are Catholics. It claims to have 15 'non-negotiable Core beliefs'. The first of these is this; 'Illegal aliens are here illegally'.

Moderate Republicans deselected

The Tea Party has caused mayhem in the Republican Party by campaigning to have any moderate Congressmen and women deselected. They do this through the US's primary system.

Before a Republican or Democratic candidate can stand in an election, he or she must first win a primary election to earn the right to represent their party.

Because of low voter turnout in primary elections, small numbers of committed activists are able to ensure that their preferred candidates are selected to represent their party in the election. Turnout can be as low as 1% of the turnout in a general election. It is generally around 10-15%.

30 Congressmen and women with Tea Party links

The Tea Party has campaigned to have moderate Republicans replaced by more extreme alternatives. There are now some 130 Congressmen with links to the Tea Party.

Tea Party sympathisers recently threatened to deselect the speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner because he said that he wanted to pass an immigration reform bill that would allow illegal residents who came to the country as children to join a pathway to citizenship if they subsequently studied in college or served in the US military.

Many US commentators say that the Tea Party is now a spent force in US politics. This has been partly caused, commentators say, by its previous success. The Tea Party had considerable success in the elections of 2010 in getting extreme candidates appointed.


Once in Congress, those Tea Party candidates have caused 'gridlock' in Congress by a complete refusal to compromise on any issue.

Perhaps the best-known example of Tea Party intransigence came when Tea Party Republicans nearly caused the US to default on its debts by refusing to approve the money to pay the country's creditors.

A Republican primary candidate from Maine, Andrew Ian Dodge, told; 'There were [Tea Party] people saying, 'Yes, I think we should default,' and there were the rest of us saying, 'You're insane' ". What makes this criticism more surprising is the fact that Mr Dodge was a founder of one of the major Tea Party groups in Maine.

Opposition to immigration reform is Tea Party's top priority for 2014

Nonetheless, it remains unlikely that Republicans, fearful that they will be undermined by Tea Party activists, will vote for immigration reform in 2014. It is an election year and the Tea Party seems to have made opposition to immigration reform its number one priority.

The American political system has been kidnapped by the Tea Party.

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