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Don’t give us the “piecemeal,” give us the whole thing


Last Friday, the House of Representatives passed the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics  Jobs Act (STEM), which is intended to increase the number of visas granted to foreign students studying in the fields in American schools.

It’s also designed to appeal to Hispanic voters without making extreme changes to immigration law. It is the latest in Republicans’ regimen of what has been described as “piecemeal” reform – a term reflecting their desire to make changes in politics based on what is slow and digestible, but not necessarily based on what is right.

Under the act, 55,000 permanent residency visas would be granted to foreign students studying a STEM degree. While at face value, the passing of this act seems positive because it will be helping some people stay in the country without the threat of deportation, it is conceived as a move to slow reform on immigration by enacting “piecemeal” reform instead of comprehensive reform that would benefit all potential immigrants.

“We need to break up the elephant into bite-size pieces … I want to break this (immigration reform) up into passable bill by passable bill,” said California Representative Darrell Issa.

The audiences targeted are the students whose developing skills are in high demand in the current job market. According to Texas Representative Lamar Smith, “these students have the ability to start a company that creates jobs or come up with an invention that could jump-start a whole new industry.”

The intent is to spur economic growth by giving visas to people with the STEM skill sets.

There are two problems with the approach. While it is true this reform, relative to potential reforms, would look for less-valued skill sets and would boost economic growth, it is not the government’s role to decide what demographics, skill-sets, or industries to promote, especially not at the expense of others.

Secondly, economics should not even be the central issue in the debate over immigration reform.

On principle, the “piecemeal” approach ignores the fundamental issue at hand: Immigrants to this country, whether documented or not, are human beings that enjoy the same fundamental, inalienable rights Americans citizens do.

The job of lawmakers is not to plan ideal economic outcomes, but to ensure laws defend individual rights, namely, the rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. In the case of immigration, lawmakers must legalize individual rights by welcoming to this country anyone who is willing to work to earn a living. That would entail granting citizenship to all people who come to America to make better lives for themselves.

The STEM Jobs Bill, if enacted, would represent progress only in superficial terms. On net, more people’s rights would be respected to a greater extent. But on principle, there will be no progress.

The STEM students would not be viewed as people pursuing their own dreams, but as tools for the use of Americans who judge their political success by the standard of annual GDP growth and the support of minority voting blocs in election seasons. STEM students would be statistically, not morally significant. They would be spared deportation and humiliation for the sake of making America richer, not for the sake of freedom to live a more fulfilling life.

For Republicans pushing piecemeal reform, such economic growth is an end in itself, whether or not the means to that end respect individual rights.

For the approximately 11.5 million undocumented immigrants not studying STEM subjects, or not studying at all, the potential economic benefits of the STEM Jobs Bill would not represent progress.

“Applicants [for the program exempting them from potential deportation] must prove that they were brought to the United States before they turned 16; that they have lived here continuously for the past five years; and that they were in the country and were under age 31 on June 15,” reads President Obama’s new policy announced in June. The policy offers relief to more immigrants, and has nothing to do with the immigrant’s job or college major, but is still arbitrary and conciliatory in nature.  A person’s age is not any more relevant to their rights than their course of study is.

The right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness belongs to all humans, regardless of where they are born and how well their governments’ laws respect their rights. A piecemeal approach to immigration reform, whether it is based on age, career, or any other morally irrelevant standard, is a piecemeal approach to individual rights and a capitulation of individual rights on principle.

In order to remain true to their commitment to defend American values, both political parties should enthusiastically support sweeping, radical, rights-respecting immigration reform which would allow unlimited numbers of people of any age and from any location to flock to the doors of whatever firm will hire them and whatever school believes them to be academically capable.

“Piecemeal” reform like the STEM Jobs Bill, President Obama’s policy and any other rights-violating policies that leave any number of potential Americans in the dust, should be denounced and abandoned.

Nathan Fatal is a Collegian columnist; he can be reached at

7 Responses to “Don’t give us the “piecemeal,” give us the whole thing”
  1. David Hunt '90 says:

    Don’t want your family broken up? Don’t come here illegally.

  2. The Juggernaut says:

    Immigrants have no American rights. Those are for American citizens; see your flaws in logic now?

    They (immigrants and visa-holders) are protected by and subject to American laws and deportation to their home country. I am for the STEM policies above as growth is important, but illegal immigrants are discriminatory, stealing spots from Asian, European, African, and Oceanic immigrants without care.

    Not to mention I much rather feed, clothe, house, and educate my fellow citizens first.

  3. NF says:

    It seems that your logic is flawed. I make no distinction of American or Mexican or any other country-based rights. I argue that everyone has the same rights and that governments vary in their respect for those rights. Individual rights, which are prerogatives to freedom of action which belong to all people, are not defined by national borders or legal systems, but by an objective analysis of human nature and its relation to rationality and reality.

    I also said nothing about providing food/clothing/housing/education to immigrants or American citizens or anyone else for that matter. A rights-respecting government would not provide goods and services to some at the expense of others, i.e by violating individual rights. It wouldn’t provide any of that to anyone. Nor would it enact such an abhorrently rights-violating immigration policy that makes it difficult for good, hard-working, rights-respecting people to come to this country, or that breaks up the families of those who manage to.

    There should be no illegal immigrants, because it should not be illegal to cross a border in search of a better life (unless of course the person in question is a criminal who seeks to actively feed on or hinder the productivity of others)

  4. mason says:

    John Kerry proposed a very similar two years ago to increase foreign visas for the benefit of supplying engineering jobs; John Kerry is a senior democrat senator for one of the most liberal states in the country so I do not think this is a partisan issue.

    Also you are right 55,000 is too low; the number should be increased by hundreds of thousands. Stem majors are extremely important to the economy, make up employment for one of the the fastest growing sector of the economy(IT) and generate alot of money for the u.s economy. (The average engineering employee generates 13 million dollars in gross revenue versus 800,000 for the average non-engineering employee)

    Which would benefit all of us, I don’t understand how ignoring economic needs in a time of high unemployment and anemic gdp growth should be maligned.

  5. David Hunt '90 says:

    mason – there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of AMERICANS who have degrees in STEM who are unemployed, and you want to bring more in?

  6. hm says:

    NF, i hate Ayn Rand and most of your politics, but I agree with this entirely. It’s truly pathetic how many chest-beating American “patriots” like to forget that unless they are Native American Indians, that their ancestors were immigrants too, that there is nothing more American than immigration. I thought America was supposed to be an idea, a “dream” if you will, not just a place. I thought that was supposed to be what was so great about it? What do say, “patriots”? Go read the inscription on the statue of Liberty if you need to be reminded. And if you were born in an impoverished country, wouldn’t you try to go wherever you could and do whatever you could to make a living, provide for your family, etc? Shame on you. “America for Americans” is just the latest rephrasing of the logic of racism and genocide (e.g., “Germany for Germans”, etc). Occasionally some of these people, like Bill O’Reilly, slip up and say out loud what they actually mean when they express fears about immigration and the “illegal aliens” (who they can’t even bring themselves to refer to as humans, preferring to make them sound like inhuman, extraterrestrial creatures): they are afraid of the ongoing relative decline of the ‘white’ proportion of the population, and consequently the loss of white privilege from the structure of American society. Well good riddance, it’s about time.

  7. mason says:

    That is an interesting assertion but I know demand for stem majors is very high and this is reflective in their salaries and above average increase in salaries. Please submit a study or report that shows high unemployment among stem majors.

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