National Guard troops scan the Mexican border.

On Friday the Republican-controlled House passed a bill to increase immigration for high-skilled “STEM” (science, technology, engineering and math) workers and to also cancel the immigration lottery, in which about 55,000 visas are awarded at random to among the millions who apply.

Democrats opposed the bill even though Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, added a provision intended to allow family members of immigrants to wait in the United States while they await green cards.

House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) explained the legislation on the House floor:

Moreover, Democrats in the Senate have signaled to Republican leadership that STEM legislation is a non-starter. So what is going on here?

Cynics would say that Democrats want no progress on immigration reform so they can continue to paint Republicans as anti-immigrant. A more charitable explanation would be that  Democrats don’t want to “give” Republicans a win on this reform, no matter what the merits, because it lessens their bargaining leverage for comprehensive immigration reform.

This also highlights the fundamental difference between the parties in how they see immgration. The Washington Times reported:

We want to put to the head of the line the people who, every single one of them that comes, net creates jobs,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, who managed the bill on the House floor.

Democrats, though, objected to making immigration a zero-sum equation, where any new visas would have to come at the expense of existing lines of immigration.

“I can’t support a bill that pits immigrant communities against each other,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the ranking Democrat on the House immigration subcommittee.

Crazy, huh, that we should prefer highly skilled immigrants who could help our economy? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Democrats are pandering to the lowest common denominator, pushing a view that it makes no difference who comes into the country (a position they know Republicans reject).

It is reasonable to conclude that the only way to move this issue ahead and for Republicans to gain some political mileage is to put forth their own bill with provisions that deal with border control, work-site enforcement, STEM visas and the millions of illegal immigrants already here, which the United States has no intention of deporting. But who will take the lead, and will he or she be savaged by the exclusionists in the GOP (and Big Labor, which doesn’t want workplace competition)? We’ll find out next year.