Reviews | GOP immigration paranoia harms national security

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After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Congress unanimously past the Soviet Scientists Immigration Act of 1992, which made it easier for highly qualified scientists and engineers from certain countries of the former Soviet bloc to come to the United States. The message was clear: the best and brightest in the world want to live in open societies, not under dictatorship. The Cold War taught us that the exploitation brain drain is a smart and fair strategy. But now some members of the GOP have forgotten that lesson.

Thirty years later, as the West confronts aggressive dictatorships based in Moscow and Beijing, the United States risks wasting its greatest opportunity since the Cold War to bolster our competitiveness at the expense of our adversaries. Why? Because some members of the Republican Party are more determined to thwart any action on immigration than they are to compete with Russia and China.

As for Russia, Congress dropped the ball last month when it passed the $40 billion extra funding bill to help Ukraine resist Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. As dozens of thousands young middle-class workers fled Russia out of disgust or necessity, Proposed Biden administration easing visa restrictions for Russians with higher degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). But Republican leaders refused to allow the proposal to be included in legislation, several lawmakers and congressmen told me.

Now Congress may also be on the verge of letting go of China. The House and Senate negotiators are work behind the scenes to merge the two chambers’ versions of landmark legislation designed to prepare the United States for strategic and economic competition with China. The home version includes provisions it would give special status to refugees fleeing the Chinese government’s crackdown on freedom and democracy in Hong Kong and authorize the Department of Homeland Security to fast-track the entry of up to 5,000 highly qualified Hong Kongers. It would also expand visas for applicants with an advanced STEM degree from any country. The Senate version contains none of these provisions.

Within the negotiations, intense discussions are continuing between Democrats and Republicans over those provisions, lawmakers and staffers said. But last month, Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he objected to including anything related to immigration in the bill, calling such provisions “partisan” and “completely irrelevant to the fight against China.”

Yet the push to help qualified Hong Kongers move to the United States has been bipartisan in the past. The wording of the House bill is taken from the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act, sponsored by Rep. Tom Malinowski (DN.J.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), which passed the House unanimously in 2020. He died in the Senate after Sen. Ted Cruz (R -Tex.) blocked this. A different bipartisan bill in the Senate to ease immigration requirements for Hong Kongers fleeing Beijing’s crackdown has also stalled.

“I urge my colleagues in the Senate to keep our bill in the final Chinese contest package,” Kinzinger told me. “We warn the Chinese Communist Party that their continued attacks on freedom could mean the loss of the very people who built Hong Kong’s economic success.”

In opposing the Malinowski-Kinzinger bill, Cruz asserted what to accept Hongkongers was the first step towards opening our borders and that the Chinese Communist Party could exploit the program to send spies to the United States. This ignores the fact that China has much easier ways to get spies into our country and that the CCP is trying prevent Hongkongers from leaving because Beijing knows that the risk of brain drain for China is real.

“It’s a debate between those who think our openness as a democratic society is an advantage in fighting autocracies or a disadvantage,” Malinowski told me. “One of the main lessons of the Cold War is that it’s an advantage. I just hope we choose the same strategy that won the Cold War.

One thing that has changed since the Cold War is that now those skilled workers fleeing Russia and Hong Kong have more options. Some reports say 50,000 to 70,000 Russians tech workers fled to places like Turkey, Georgia or the Baltic countries in the first weeks of the war in Ukraine. Hong Kong business leaders decamp to Singapore. Canada has already expanded immigration for Hong Kongers with advanced degrees, and thousands take advantage.

The whole world is competing for the talents of those fleeing Hong Kong and Putin’s Russia. Republicans’ excessive fear of immigration should not waste a strategic opportunity for the United States to strengthen itself and weaken its rivals at the same time. Congress should ensure that China’s and Russia’s losses are America’s gains.


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