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7. Washington Watch:
House Passes Bill to Cancel Diversity Visa Lottery

The Washington Times reports that the House of Representatives voted in the post-election lame duck session to cancel the annual diversity visa lottery and give those immigration visas to high-tech foreign-born who earned advanced degrees from American universities. The 245-139 vote was a test for the Republican Party’s plan to tackle immigration piece-by-piece. While the main point of the bill was to boost green cards given to science, technology, engineering and technology students, the bigger issue was over Republicans’ plans to cancel the diversity visa lottery, which the GOP argues is rife with fraud. Democrats have objected to the Republicans’ plan, saying that immigration would actually decrease under the GOP bill. While all 55,000 diversity visas are used every year, statistics from the National Science Foundation show that there are only about 30,000 students a year who would even qualify. The bill failed to pass in the Senate and must now be re-introduced in the new Congress.


Implementation of New USCIS Immigrant Fee February 1st

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) report that they will begin collecting a new USCIS Immigrant Fee of $165 from foreign nationals seeking permanent residence in the United States. USCIS has worked closely with the Department of State (DOS) to implement the new fee which allows USCIS to recover the costs of processing immigrant visas in the United States after immigrant visa holders receive their visa packages from DOS. In order to simplify and centralize the payment process, applicants will pay online through the USCIS website after they receive their visa package from DOS and before they depart for the United States. DOS will provide applicants with specific information on how to submit payment when they attend their consular interview. USCIS process approximately 36,000 immigrant visa packages each month. Prospective adoptive parents whose child will enter the United States under the Orphan or Hague processes are exempt from the new fee.


Labor Secretary Concerned for Safety of Immigrant Workers in Storm Clean-up

The New York Daily News reports that the United States Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, is concerned immigrant workers, especially the undocumented, may not come forward to report possibly unsafe working conditions and missed pay despite being protected by labor laws. Solis met with immigrant day laborers working on Hurricane Sandy cleanup efforts and encouraged them to call the U.S. Department of Labor with any problems. Immigrants who are in the country illegally and unauthorized to work are protected by labor laws but may be apprehensive about reporting missed wages or unsafe conditions. The federal government and immigrant advocates are trying to prevent a replay of the mistakes that occurred during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In Louisiana, a huge influx of immigrant laborers, many undocumented, were hired by contracting firms to do much of the dirtiest cleanup for little pay. Studies found contractors often did not provide protective gear like gloves and masks. At the Centro del Inmigrante on Castleton Ave., Executive Director Gonzalo Mercado has been hosting OSHA safety demonstrations for workers and plans to provide hundreds of free high-quality masks and gloves to Sandy cleanup workers.


Uniting American Families Act Wins Support From Two Republicans

The Huffington Post reports that two Republican House members signed on to a bill in the lame duck session of Congress that would allow same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones for immigration purposes, making the legislation bipartisan – although with only small levels of GOP support – in both chambers. Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) joined Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and 145 Democratic lawmakers in support of the bill, called the Uniting American Families Act. Dent, Hanna and Collins are the only Republican cosponsors of the bill.

The Uniting American Families Act was introduced in April 2011 by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). It could help as many as 40,000 bi-national same-sex couples who hope to petition for their partner for legal immigration, according to a study from the Wilson Institute at UCLA. Those couples have nearly 25,000 children in total, the same report found. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, those couples are not afforded the same rights as opposite-sex couples to petition for green cards for their spouses, even if they are legally married in their state. Advocates for the bill hope to see it passed as part of comprehensive immigration reform or on its own. .


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