Why the Schumer-Smith Immigration Negotiations Broke Down

Negotiations between Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith on a bipartisan, bicameral immigration bill fell apart last month over how to reunify foreigners living legally in the United States with family members living abroad.

"The deal breaker was we couldn't come up with a big provision on family reunification," a senior Schumer aide told the Alley. (Smith, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.)

The behind-the-scenes talks spilled into public view this week when both lawmakers announced they were introducing separate bills to create a new green card category for foreigners who have received doctorate and master's degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering and math.

Smith had agreed to several smaller family reunification provisions, but Schumer was pushing for a more sweeping provision to satisfy members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Schumer also opposes Smith's push to allow graduates from for-profit schools to qualify for visas and wants to see visas not used by graduates with advanced degrees go to graduates with STEM bachelor degrees.

Smith's move to break off negotiations and try and pass his own bill is viewed by some Democrats as an attempt to gain leverage in his negotiations with Schumer.

And because the idea has broad bipartisan support -- and House rules require the bill pass with significant Democratic support -- it was a gamble Smith seems willing to take. To help, he's lined up industry supportbehind the legislation.

But House Democrats, led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, are urging their colleagues not to support Smith's bill. In a Dear Colleague letter today, Lofgren writes:

Republicans have instead chosen to rush a partisan bill that has no chance of becoming law to score political points. It seems the only reason our colleagues have chosen to pursue this strategy right before an election is to attempt to appear more immigrant-friendly and to curry favor with high-tech groups.

If the vote fails, the Schumer aide said, the New York Democrat thinks his negotiations with Smith, which had been close to closing a deal, could be quickly resumed and a bipartisan alternative could be crafted by the lame duck.