WASHINGTON, D.C. — Every immigration reporter on Capitol Hill knows the disdain many in the Indian green card backlog have for Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Online immigrants from India mock Durbin as the “immigration champion” in tweets, emails, Telegram chats, and comic strips where the Democratic Whip is accused of ignoring their plight over and over and over again.
They also have a bill on the Union calendar in the House of Representatives.
The Equal Access to Green Cards for Legal Employment Act of 2022 or Eagle Act is an obscure bill, strangely bipartisan in the House with a low-key advocacy organization, Immigration Voice, that was on Capitol Hill this week for meetings with staffers for Republican Senators Josh Hawley (MO), Mike Lee (UT), and Tom Cotton (AR), plus the Senate offices of Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) and Tina Smith (MN).
Advocates said they were well-received in all of their meetings, with top marks given to Hawley’s staff on Monday.
“Senator Hawley’s office was our best meeting of the day,” said an advocate over coffee in the House Longworth Cafeteria.
Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) got high praises from the advocates on Tuesday at the same coffee spot.
“It seemed like they really understood the issue and the bill,” another Immigration Voice advocate said.
The bill is more obscure in the Senate, according to one of Immigration Voice’s top lieutenants who revealed the following with Latino Rebels: “Name one Republican Senator who opposes the Eagle Act, but don’t call it the Eagle Act because they won’t know what you’re talking about. Instead, call it the ‘Mike Lee’s per country immigration bill’. The senators will know what you’re talking about if you call it that.”
Durbin seemed unaware of the Eagle Act in March when Latino Rebels asked him in a hallway interview. Latino Rebels asked again on Monday, this time attributing it to Senator Lee. As predicted, Durbin knew right away the bill in question.
“To help the people from India at the expense of everyone else is their solution,” Durbin said. “You can imagine everyone else has a different opinion so we’re trying to find some middle ground. The clear solution is more green cards so they don’t have to wait 25 years.”
Republican orthodoxy is to oppose any new green cards until the U.S. border with Mexico is “secure”—a political term with moving goal posts and endless appropriations from the public purse to the Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies.
The decades-long wait times for green cards Durbin refers to are particularly long for immigrants due to per-country caps that limit how many green cards can go to family-and work-based visa holders from a given country. The Eagle Act eliminates the employment-based cap altogether while increasing the family-based cap from 7 to 15 percent.
The Eagle Act does not create any additional green cards. It reshuffles existing allotments. Green cards are the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel—permanent permission to remain in the United States untethered from any family or employment-based sponsorship.
Roughly 75% of temporary H1-B visas currently go to immigrants from India, which means Indians have the longest green card queue, a backlog that can’t be cleared due to the per-country cap. Several H1-B immigrants were among the nearly 60 Immigration Voice advocates who met Monday night at Jyoti, an Indian restaurant in Adams Morgan for a dinner buffet. Loads of immigrant optimism were shared over an open bar at the off-the-record dinner which was attended by the organization’s president, Aman Kapoor of Virginia.
The following day Immigration Voice was back on the Hill early, soldiering through a timeline of meetings with lawmakers and their staffers.
“Cotton really went to bat for us,” an Immigration Voice member said at the Senate’s Dirksen Cafeteria. “He is one of the best Republican senators for our issue.”
The worst senator on the issue, according to this member?
“Durbin, of course,” the member said.
Meanwhile, the Eagle Act has 83 cosponsors in the House, including eight Republicans and Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal, an immigrant from Chennai, India.
Immigrant Voice members keep wondering if Durbin worked with Cotton on the right and Jayapal on the left to pass ultimately pass the Eagle Act in this Congress.
“[Durbin] needs to do something to be redeemable,” JM said in a Telegram chat frequented by backlog immigrants from India.
“In his long career, Senator Durbin has sabotaged more immigration bills than the bills he has helped pass. He has not been able to make any impact whatsoever on immigration, and I am very eager to see him achieve literally anything for any group,” said Akshar Prabha Desai, another member of the chat.
Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports